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I Am Not a ‘Person With a Disability,’ I Do Not ‘Have’ a Disability.’ I Am Disabled.
Most people look at the word “disabled” and assume it means “less able.” It doesn’t. It means “prevented from functioning.” When I turn the wireless connection off on my computer, I get told that the connection has been “disabled.”
Does this mean that my WiFi has suddenly become less able or broken? Has my WiFi acquired a disability? Of course not. It has been prevented from functioning by an external force. In a very similar way to how I’m disabled by bus drivers that just won’t stop if they see me — a wheelchair user — waiting at the bus stop.
The main argument in favor of the phrase “person with a disability” is that it’s “person first.” Whaaaat? No one has ever told me that I should describe myself as a “person with gayness” or a “person with womanliness.” I’m gay and I’m a woman — no need to qualify that I’m a person too. But I have been told that I’m wrong for calling myself “disabled” rather than a “person with a disability.” Unsurprisingly my response either tends to be about as long as this article or a short string of expletives.
Why Must Being Sick be Such Hard Work?
Back when I first came to grips with the fact that I did need a wheelchair, I had the not-so-great fortune to experience the exquisite pleasures of dealing with insurance company automatons, the folks at the other end of the line who excel at sounding entirely reasonable while spouting a line of crap longer than New York City sewer system.
The insurance company brain trust decided that the perfect chair for me was one designed for indoor use only, which was completely ill-suited for life in the big city. This was at a point in my illness when I could still precariously hobble around my apartment, and the point of my getting a chair at that precise juncture was to allow me access to the world outside of my apartment door. Inasmuch as that world is smack dab in the middle of one of the busiest cities in the world, I needed a chair that was rugged, had long-lived batteries, and was relatively speedy, lest I get shmushed in the middle of trying to cross Broadway.
OK, I’ll admit that I also wanted a really fast chair because I thought having speedy wheels would be fun (I was correct), but getting around New York City does provide a need for speed.
The wheelchair vendor that the insurance company referred me to apparently couldn’t give a damn about my real-life requirements, and insisted on trying to sell me chairs that were completely ill-suited for the task at hand, but were of the type preapproved by my insurance company. In other words, easy money for the wheelchair vendor.
— Marc Stecker, www.WheelchairKamikaze.com
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Filed Under: Columns