For as long as I have understood my disabilities, I have struggled with the terms “disability” and “difference”. There are some people who believe that using the term “disability” brings harm to the LD Community. They believe this harm is the result of negative stigma perpetuated in our general society. Others, however, feel that the term “difference” helps the public to understand that a person with an LD processes information in a different way (they use phrases like difference not disabled).
While this choice is personal to the individual, it is important to understand is that the term “disability” has legal standing. The term “difference” does not.
I looked at two definitions when I started to write this article.
According to Dictionary.com a disability is:
[dis-uh-bil-i-tee] Show IPA
noun, plural dis·a·bil·i·ties for 2.
1. lack of adequate power, strength, or physical or mental ability; incapacity.
2. a physical or mental handicap, especially one that prevents a person from living a full, normal life or from holding a gainful job.
4. the state or condition of being disabled.
5. legal incapacity; legal disqualification.
According to Wikipedia.com a disability is:
Disability is the consequence of an impairment that may be physical, cognitive, mental, sensory, emotional, developmental, or some combination of these.
I looked at Wikipedia out of curiosity. After reading the term on Dictionary.com I felt negative. I saw things like “lack of adequate power”, “preventing a person from living a normal life”. Yuck! So, I went to Wikipedia.com to see what others might say. I found that the later definition was uplifting. It may be true that the disability community often lacks the power and the resources to help itself, but is that who we are – or is that a condition or consequence of our place in society?
I now believe that this is a condition of my situation and not a definition of who we are as a people.
However, before I jump into preaching one theology over another. I have to admit that I have used these same types of negative definitions. When I was young, I presumed that I was enlightened about the term “disability”. I believed that I understood those dealing with conditions that impacted their living and lifestyle. I did not turn away friends who were disabled. I helped people in wheelchairs (yes I did just say this). I spent time with people that had disabilities. I defended people when others were mean. I told my children to be proud of their disabilities. I really did believe that I had a positive perspective.
But – when I began to struggle with learning, I did not consider myself to be disabled. For that reason, I did not seek help and I spent a great deal of time feeling ashamed of my struggles. If I was backed into a corner, I identified myself as having some trouble with spelling. Or I would say that I was “possibly dyslexic”…but no, never did I really admit that I had a disability.
As an adult, I had to face this situation head on. I had called someone to discuss testing. The difficulty I was having in school was becoming too hard for me to cope with alone. Every time I reached out to a psychologist or therapist, I was asked if I have other disabilities. The terms “Asperger” and “Sensory Deficit” were tossed about. The whole thought process made me angry. How dare those people call me disabled! In my head, I only had problems with my learning and that was all it was. Nothing more! I had researched this and I was not like – I hate to admit I felt like this – but thought I was not like “those people”. That was when I realized that I had the same prejudices, had perpetuated those same stigmas and had felt those same negative emotions that were now interfering with my own ability to get the help I needed.
Stigma is an enigma that cripples.
I finally bit the bullet and got my diagnosis. This event was both exciting (because so much of what I had experienced made sense) and painful (because I had lived for so long without really knowing myself).
I have shuffled between the terms “disability” and “difference” as I have worked to come to terms with my diagnosis. I believe that the only way to change the stigma associated with the term “disability” is for those of us who are disabled to proudly announce that we are and face that often negative public persona head on. I believe we must also face ourselves and examine our own fears and beliefs about these terms.
Whichever term you choose, make sure you are well informed about both. I hope to one day be secure in with my disabilities. Until then, I am at least determined to honestly face it one day at a time.