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.” 


One comment on “Some Thoughts on Disability Terminology

  1. Michael Giuseppe Mannozzi says:

    Zach Fenell is a very talented writer and author. He effectively bridges an understanding between people in different “walks” of life. Zach is open to differences but genuinely discusses issue with a sense of openess that many other writers might shy away from. Way to go Zachary, and ll the best on your continued success!

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