Tuesday, July 1, 2014


photo of an open book of definitions with a magnifying glass on top
Here is my first attempt at writing some definitions for my Disability Lexicon. They're not funny, and I'm not sure it's going to be feasible to make all the definitions funny. I may just settle for accurate and clear. Please comment, suggest different interpretations, or better yet, offer your own, alternative definitions!

Eventually, I want to put all these definitions into a Wiki.


One of several alternative terms for “disability”, consciously coined to replace the perceived negativity of “disabled”, and assert the idea that “disabilities” are only differences, not necessarily disadvantages.

The term received mixed reviews among disabled people, and is rejected by most disability rights activists and participants in disability culture.

Some view this term and terms similar to it as patronizing. Others say it fails to acknowledge the real personal and social hardships of disabilities. It is generally intended to express a more progressive, respectful view of disabled people. Yet, it is possible that “differently-abled” was made up not by disabled people themselves, but by non-disabled progressives and academics who knew little about real-life disability experience. [See also: physically challenged, disABLED, special needs].

Ableism / Disableism

“Ableism” is a broad term for any form of disability-related prejudice. “Disableism” is an equivalent term more often used in the United Kingdom.

People First Language

An approach to disability terminology in which the word “person” comes first, modified by “disability” or a specific condition, as in “people with disabilities” and “person with a Cerebral Palsy”.

The idea has two main components:

First is to emphasize that disabled people are, first and foremost, people … with dignity, rights, and agency … rather than being thought of as simply a condition to be studied and examined impersonally.

Second, “people first” language, for many, expresses a specific way of understanding disability, not as an all-encompassing identity, but as an adjunct aspect of an individual with many other traits and qualities.

“People first” language, along with using the word “disability” has been the most broadly accepted “ regressive  or “politically correct" way of referring to disabled people, for around the last 25 years. However, recently, a counter-movement has arisen arguing that “people first” language doesn’t adequately reflect the realities of living with disabilities. The idea is that separating the disability form the person doesn’t accurately reflect the degree to which many peoples’ disabilities become integral, inseparable parts of their lives and personalities. Others argue that to say “I am disabled” more accurately reflects the impact of ableism and stigma imposed by society.

“People first” remains the standard practice in the community at large, and among many established disability advocacy groups, while “disabled” is gaining ground among activists and people more involved in disability culture.


“You know, I hope you know anyway, that my default setting is pretty positive. But I have to say it’s really rather hard to try and find a way of putting a positive gloss on that sequence of events. Would you like to have a go?" -- Ian Fletcher (Hugh Bonneville) in the BBC TV series, Twenty Twelve.
I share this quote because it is such a perfectly passive-aggressive putdown, and I can’t help imagining a disabled person using the same words in response to bureaucratic or support service breakdowns.