Disability and Me
So, as previously blogged, my diagnosis was both later in life (36 years young!), and an absolute revelation. I stopped viewing myself as hard work sometimes, and instead said ‘‘Oh, don’t worry it’s just my ADHD’.
I also learnt that ADHD is my own personal superpower. I’m still learning how to harness it, but I am getting there, and I’m pretty sure that is a lifelong journey. However there was one thing I didn’t realize, even after my diagnosis: I have a disability.
Apparently my ADHD is a disability! Who knew? Not me anyway.
I found out when our Top Boss, Nancy Doyle, was awarded #10 on The Shaw Trust 100 Disability Power List for people with disability and impairments. I was shocked she was on the list. Not because she doesn’t do amazing things such as promoting neurodiversity, but because I didn’t think she was disabled. She’s got the energy of a duracell bunny, a workload like a junior doctor and the ability to reframe a negative idea into an explosion of joy. Basically she has ADHD! What exactly is disabled about that? And wait a minute…. If she is disabled then so am I!
And that got me thinking two different, but entwined, ideas simultaneously: “What is the word disabled all about?” and “Who defines what disabled is anyway?”
Who has the right to label me, (or anyone else for that matter), as being less able than anyone else? It’s basically a social construct depending on who you have in your society. Imagine you grew up in an isolated tribe in the Amazon with no access to a western style of medicine, would you be disabled if there was no word for your condition? You would just find a role that suited your talents and get on with it. Dyslexia wouldn’t exist if you didn’t have a written language. Instead, those people we would call ‘disabled’ would be highly prized because they might well have excellent storytelling gifts, for passing on oral histories and traditions.
So basically what I think needs to change is people’s perceptions of disability. I do not call myself disabled; I might be terrible at time keeping, but I can read huge amounts of text in an incredibly small space of time. I struggle to stop procrastinating but my hyperfocus means I can achieve oodles of work in half the time it would take a neurotypical. So why am I the disabled one? I don’t go around calling the undisabled lazy and inefficient. Nobody should have the right to limit what they feel others can do, instead we should all encouraging each other to find our skills and use them wisely. Embrace diversity and be respectful.
And then I started lamenting the use of our language. The definition of disability is:
“A physical or mental condition that limits person’s movements, senses, or activities”
Synonyms include: “condition”, “disorder”, “affliction”, “ailment”, “illness”, “malady”, “disease”, “impairment”, “handicap”….. The list is actually depressingly long, and every single word is loaded with a negative connotation.
I hate and disagree with pretty much every definition I can find. I want to start a campaign to make people realize how harmful everyday language can be. I want to change these definitions into something altogether more positive.
Instead of disabled can’t we say:
I have superpowers/I am superable, differently-able, alternatively able, a diverse learner, have a mobility challenge, bionic (for those who have needed surgeries), have a para-ability, or just have challenges. A challenge means hard work and overcoming obstacles, and it implies other people inventing barriers for you but forging ahead anyway. Disabled just implies unable!
Everyone contributes something to the world, and it might not be in a way that everyone can see, or appreciate, but that doesn’t mean it should be labeled and judged. Disabled people are just people who do things in a different way.