‘Disabled’ is not a dirty word

By Katie Munday (They / them) – Autistic academic, activist and advocate.

There have been too many moments in my life where people have non-disabled-splained to me how to talk about my own embodiment and experiences. People question, or try to correct my language with good intentions; but the basis for their use of person first language (“people with disabilities”) is nothing but uncomfortable, ignorant and down right awful.

People who advocate for person first language believe that Disabled people are separate from, and therefore ‘more than’, their Disabled embodiment. This is problematic as it centers the Disabled person as a person who is suffering, who has an affliction, a disease, a disorder or illness. It takes all the joy from atypical existence and it makes rags of the otherwise beautiful quilt of human diversity.

Us Disabled people are not more than our bodies or neurologies and neither should we be. Neurotypicality and being a so called ‘abled-bodied’ person is not the goal here.

‘Normal’ is not quite as aspirational as many people would have us believe.

Some Disabled folk do use person first language, these people are usually ashamed about and even hate their bodyminds. Some of us struggle with these things on and off throughout our lives and acquired disability is a process which tends to come with a lot of sadness, regret and blame too. However, many more of us are happy and proud to be who we are. Our disability and /or neurodivergence is a massive part of who we are – it is inseparable from our very essence, the very things which make us, us. I couldn’t do anything in a non ADHD / Autistic / OCD fashion because all of these differences effect all of my life. They’re not compartment-able or controllable.

Non-disabled people love policing how we talk about our own experiences, cultures and bodyminds. Even when they do start an open-conversation with us they still disagree. They have this need to control our narrative: ones they don’t understand, usually have no stake in and seemingly don’t care about.

My opinions and understanding of myself, my life and my experiences are not up for debate.

I am Neurodivergent.
I am Autistic.
I am Disabled.

All of these differences and identities are the ways in which I make sense of the World around me and my part in it (including the way I am treated by others systemically and individually). And none of these are shameful terms.

‘Disabled’ is not a dirty word.

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