Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Do you see yourself as disabled?

The question makes no sense to me: 'Disabled' is a descriptor. Which to me equates to either you are disabled or you aren't. True, in some situations a disability will be relevant (for me, when choosing how to travel to the shops) and other situations it is not relevant at all (when deciding which flowers I like). Disabilities will vary in relevance, and often also in severity and effect over time.

So for me, the only possible answer is "Yes. Because I am."

I am disabled. Just as I am human. And brown haired. And English. And several hundred other descriptors covering everything from character to skills, from looks to likes and dislikes.

'People with disabilities'/'disabled people' demonstrate the same range of characteristics as 'humans' - the good, the bad and the ugly. Disability says nothing about these other characteristics. I don't shy away from using the descriptor 'human', so I don't shy away from the descriptor 'disabled' either.

If you do have a disability/condition that affects how you do things on a daily basis, and you find that your initial reaction is to say 'no, I don't see myself as disabled' - or to say how glad you are that friends helped you realise that using an aid/adaptation doesn't mean you're disabled...

Please pause.

And think.

Every time someone who has a disability says
"I don't see myself as disabled",
I don't hear
"I am not pitiable, I am a valuable member of the human race."
Which I suspect is what they might be trying to communicate.

Instead I hear
"I agree that disability is shameful and pitiable. People who are disabled can't be talented, funny, individual, intelligent, or valuable members of society. So I am carefully distancing myself from the really negative and shameful people who are disabled." 
True, the process of becoming disabled is often traumatic - and adjusting to new limits is challenging and can take time and tears - but take courage, 'different' can still be awesome.

My advice would be: try not hide from your disability in case it is viewed negatively, instead learn the skills to get on with your life, secure in the knowledge that 'disabled' is only one small practical descriptor in the marvelously unique bundle of characteristics that is you.


  1. excellent points Hannah, as always. It is difficult and something that I have really struggled to come to terms with and ego is such a tricky thing in everything.....

  2. Thank you! I feel the exact same way; my body doesn't work right, it isn't doing things the way it should be and so yes, I am disabled. I'm unable to do things the way a normal healthy body does, not unable to do other things. I think it's important that people come to terms with that in their own way. It took me a while to realise I could say I was disabled, especially when everyone else (including the government) kept saying 'nope, you don't look sick, you can walk, you can't be disabled'.

  3. Hi,

    I publish an Australian website on disability news and opinion at:

    and was wondering if it might be okay to republish this article and any other relevant ones on our website, with appropriate credit and a link back of course.

    It would help spread your work and gain a wider audience for you.

    Hope we can work together and I am quite happy to publish other articles you may have written that aren't on your blog also.


  4. I find the word disabled tremendously useful, as when I say "I am disabled" people understand that there are things I can't do, and I don't need to go into the complicated explanations which would be required if I said "I have ME" or "I have MCS" or even "I have diabetes". For instance, there's a note on my door asking people to knock, and if no-one answers, telling them where to leave parcels. Often when I do answer the door, usually after they've been ringing the bell and knocking for a while, because I was in bed when they arrived, even though it's the middle of the day - people get a bit indignant - they're obviously fed up that I've wasted their time by not answering sooner. But as soon as I say "I am disabled" suddenly everything's OK, they are all smiles, they are lifting the parcel over the step for me and telling me to have a good day. "I have ME" would simply not have that effect, as most people know less than nothing about it (in that what they think they know is generally wrong). I say "I am disabled" all the time, it explains all sorts of things, from my need to have music turned off in shops, to my need to see lists of ingredients so I can choose a cake in a cafe, to the long list of questions I have to ask holiday cottage owners about any cleaning or decorating they've done before I can book to stay with them. Absolutely agree with you, it is not something we should view as shameful, it's just practical.

    (PS this is Juliet from Cards4ME with one of my other blogging hats on today!).

  5. When I first read this a couple of weeks ago, I knew I very strongly agreed with you and that this was an important point for me, but wasn't quite sure why. Now I realise that fundamentally, 'I am disabled' is [usually] non-negotiable and carries rather more weight in other people's minds than 'I have xyz condition' or 'I am chronically ill'. Very few people want to be seen to be, or think of themselves as arguing with a disabled person! (Of course, I'm not in the habit of 'pulling the disabled card', but it is useful when I need to be assertive about my specific needs.)

    I've had a couple of encounters with people related to the 'disabled = negative' attitude:
    When I told our HR Manager about my diagnosis, partway through the conversation she said 'If things get harder, we might have to start thinking about adjustments but under the Equality Act - not that it is a disability, but you know, just in case'. I did interject with 'well, it is a disability' but thought it was sad that she felt she had to say that in case she offended.
    We have a girl in school who currently has both lower legs in plaster casts, after an operation for an ongoing condition. When we briefly discussed it, she said dolefully 'If it keeps getting worse, I might even become disabled'. She said it in such a way that she clearly expected a horrified/pitying reaction, and that such a reaction was entirely warranted. Of course, it's not nice for her to be in pain and to have to cope with such a traumatic change in circumstances, but at the same time it might make it easier to deal with if she understood that being disabled is not the Worst Thing Ever To Happen.

    (Incidentally, I also am very certain that most people are not solely disabled by the barriers put up by society, or whatever the argument is. Personally, my body simply does not work beyond a certain amount of exertion; NOTHING society may do can change that. A similar principle applies to many of us, I think.)


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