The “D” Word

At the age of eleven I was diagnosed with bone cancer. Treatment required a surgeon cut off part of my left leg. I’ve grown up wearing prosthetics, and today, at 31, they’ve become part of my normal. Yet in spite of this lengthy period of adjustment, I still choke on the word ‘disability’.

I avoid uttering the phrase ‘I am disabled’. I do not like attaching the “D” Word to myself. If necessary, I try to be careful to say that ‘I have a disability’. I’m prepared to to acknowledge that I have a disability, but I am very resistant to the idea that it is central to my person.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the prefix ‘dis-‘ as ‘denoting reversal or absence of an action or state’. It defines ability as ‘possession of the means or skill to do something’. The World Health Organization’s definition almost makes me gag: ‘Disabilities is an umbrella term, covering impairments, activity limitations, and participation restrictions. An impairment is a problem in body function or structure; an activity limitation is a difficulty encountered by an individual in executing a task or action; while a participation restriction is a problem experienced by an individual in involvement in life situations.’ I’m left with this sense of being discredited and dehumanized as a result of a physical trait that I cannot change.

My problem with the “D” word is the emphasis – it creates identity through that which is not. This conflicts directly with the way I approach living. I look around and see endless possibilities.

Yes, many things require persistence and a bit of brainstorming, but usually I feel more limited by perceptions of my prosthetic, and my fear that it will be perceived as a weakness or a fault, than by the prosthetic itself.

None of the accepted synonyms are any better. My good friend Malcolm Daly likes the word ‘gimp’. In fact, he often refers to ‘gimps’ and ‘normals’. I must admit, I was initially uncomfortable with the idea of being a ‘gimp’ but I have come to prefer the word to ‘disabled’. However, I think it is unlikely that ‘gimp’ will enter into common usage in the English language.

Let’s face it, saying ‘there is a physical part of me that deviates from what society defines narrowly as normal’ is a bit of a mouthful, and I have not been able to come up with a decent alternative to the word ‘disability’.

The “D” word, and to whom it applies, needs to be reconsidered. Let’s start that process now.

4 thoughts on “The “D” Word

  1. i get that different challenges arise when comparing physical ‘disabilities’ to cognitive (invisible) ‘disabilities’ but as a dyslexic ‘learning disabled’ person i can relate to this issue of labeling and self identity. as a child i had to go to a special school for ‘learning disabled’ kids and met many children there quite upset with the ‘D’ word. personalty the label has never really bothered me because i find it self-evidently misleading in a funny way. truth is i feel ‘gifted’. differences may hinder but difference also revel new perspectives. i am grateful that i get to see and respond to the world in a way outside the norm. the adversity i have faced because of my ‘disability’ has given me strength and is a source of pride for me.

  2. Kate — your blog made me realize what an ironic place the world is (well, it’s no surprise, really). You are actually WAY MORE abled than most “normal” people, yet the the term disabled apparently applies to you??? “Disabled” in my vocabulary always meant “someone who can’t do stuff”, I never thought of attributing the “D” word to you because … that would just be a lie! But perhaps the identity thing is a product of (Canadian?) society sticking one in a “box”….?

  3. I would never and have never thought of you as disabled. It just doesn’t go with Kate.
    It is interesting how society can make us view others when we label them as such. I’m the same. As soon as I read this blog and learned you had a disability, I thought ” but, she climbs mountains!”
    I like gimp 🙂 Mostly because i too am “disabled” (little shot to the hip, nothing big) and my hubby calls me gimpy. Its… almost endearing. 😛 He’s a former Marine with war wounds. He’s disabled in his own way.
    My son is considered “disabled” with being autistic. Yet he is a solid “A student, most lovable human alive, brilliant. The child who would never ride a bike, never know his ABCs. Is graduating next year from high school. He’s already finished his academic career for high school and is doing college entry work for the chef program. Because I never thought of his as disabled I wouldn’t let others treat him as such either.
    To me a disabled person can’t rush around an ER faster than the techs, a disabled person can’t climb mountains!
    I think this blog needs shared. We need a better view of the human race than to corner them into clumps of labels..

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *