Some Thoughts on Disability Terminology

Before we even get into the subject matter for today’s post, you will notice I dropped the headline prefixes “Book News,” “Personality Profile,” and “Debunking Misconceptions.” While I still plan on providing these type posts, I wish to expand past these categories so we can freely discuss other disability related topics. For example, today we will look at disability terminology.

I’ve encountered this topic multiple times recently. First, in the book Living in a World of  Possibilities. You might remember me mentioning Living in a World of Possibilities previously. Composed of submissions from various individuals within the disability community, the book includes different politically correct terminology. These efforts range from stylizing the word “disabilities” to read “disABILITIES”  to  the rephrasing “differently able.”

Secondly, a debate emerged in a Facebook group I belong to (CPandMe) when a new member A Cripple Named Heidi joined. Another individual posted about Heidi’s Facebook name.

“Not diggin the name.. C’mon girlie give yourself more credit than that you’re soooo much more than ‘A Cripple Named Heidi’ you’re beautiful.”   

Automatically this person associated the word “cripple” with a negative cognition, an understandable move. Heidi’s friend revealed the name not to be derogatory but rather Heidi “embracing everything that is her life. ” I know “cripple” can carry a loaded meaning which brings me to a point I made in my recent guest blog post for Big Tent Jobs, “We Hold the Power: A Perspective on Disability Employment.” Within my post for the site dedicated to inclusion in the workplace I wrote the following.

In my view, words don’t possess meaning. We assign them meaning.” 

Time to let what I learn as a philosophy minor in college shine. A word contains nothing but letters compiled together a certain way. We take the string of letters and assign them significance. In my memoir Off Balanced I describe a friendship with a fellow classmate as “lacking political correctness.” This friend on occasion playfully uses the word “cripple” with me. Conversely, I tease him about his Mexican heritage by blatantly referencing Mexican stereotypes. What might seem like hatred fueled  interaction, resembles endearment symbolizing our close friendship.

Basically, I see efforts to repackage disability related terminology into politically correct jargon somewhat wasteful. Rather, I think we as a society need to focus on context for terminology. What do you think? Comment below!

*For more of my thoughts on the word “disability,” make sure you read my Big Tent Jobs post “We Hold the Power: A Perspective on Disability Employment.” 


Book News: Getting the Word Out!

Back in December when Off Balanced hit electronic bookshelves for the Kindle and Nook I knew much hard work remained ahead. In a way publishing a book proves similar to competing in a marathon. Writing, editing, and prepping your work for publication compares to training for the marathon. Everything leads to release day, or in our analogy race day. Now you must spread the word about your literature or else you will fail to cross the finishing line, aka reach your selling goals.

As you might imagine I’m staying busy balancing my Off Balanced marketing efforts with my other freelance writing endeavors. Last week Richmond Disability Examiner Nancy Carey interviewed me for an article. The article went live (web talk for published :)) this past Saturday. Take a look, “Off Balanced by Zachary Fenell, a memoir about teen life with a disability.” Nancy and I both submitted pieces to the book Living in a World of Possibilities, a collection of stories collected by Caring Communities’ Mona Freedman, RN. Carey’s sister Cathy Porter happens to have a disability. If you want to learn more about Carey and her writing, visit her website For more on Living in a World of Possibilities click the pic below.

Living in a World of Possibilities

Living in a World of Possibilities is available for purchase at Photo:

Beyond Nancy Carey’s Examiner article on me, I will provide some new guest blog posts soon. I already sent in a guest post set for publication on the Able Pathways blog soon. You might remember Able Pathways’ Rob Pritts interviewed me last month for their podcast. Here’s a link  in case you missed it, Able Pathways Season 4 Episode 11 “Off Balanced.”

Furthermore I recently received an invitation to blog for, a website dedicated to inclusive work environments. I will provide a guest post for them drawing parallels from Off Balanced and relating them to the work environment. As always, when these posts become available I’ll provide the links here on this blog. Until then take care!

Personality Profile: Anita Cameron

While you couldn’t tell by my inactivity here so far this month, March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month. To recognize Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month I wish to write a “Personality Profile” on someone whose done a whole lot for disability awareness and advocacy, Anita Cameron. Anita serves as a leader for the national disability advocacy group ADAPT. The following words describing ADAPT comes from the organization’s own website (

“ADAPT is a national grass-roots community that organizes disability rights activists to engage in nonviolent direct action, including civil disobedience, to assure the civil and human rights of people with disabilities to live in freedom.”

I first learned about Anita back in 2010 writing for the Yahoo! Contributor Network. We both wrote articles relating to disabilities, leading our paths to eventually cross. Her articles about disabilities intrigued me and obviously many others given Yahoo! Contributor Network named Anita Cameron a “2010 Rising Star.” I highly recommend visiting Anita’s Yahoo! Contributor Network profile and reading some of her articles which vary from documenting past ADAPT activities such as “My Visit to the White House” and “ADAPT Goes to Washington, DC, Kicks Off Defending Our Freedom Campaign” to discussing  thought provoking issues like “People with Disabilities Must Not Have a Single Social or Political Focus” and “Killing Children with Disabilities is Murder, Not Mercy!

ADAPT leader Anita Cameron

Anita Cameron speaks to the Department of Justice. Photo: Tom Olin,

A look at Anita Cameron’s Yahoo! Contributor Network bio reveals some great accolades for Anita. She has written national legislation, received an invite to the White House twice, met three presidents, and appeared in a book published  by historian Howard Zinn. Basically Anita Cameron provides the disability community with a great role model.

*Connect with Anita and follow her on Twitter at @adaptanita.