Thursday, July 25, 2013

"Disabled" Is Fine With Me

Lydia Callis, ASL interpreter, assumes too much and throws people under the bus.
Three Continents Watson - July 23, 2013

This blogger rightly calls out NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg's Sign Language Interpreter, Lydia Callis for saying something stupid about disability … specifically, that Deaf people aren't "disabled". However, I think the blogger writing about it misses the bigger problem with Callis' comment.

iconic representation of hands doing sign language
Yes, the comment implies that being Deaf is somehow better than having other kinds of disabilities. Yes, Deaf people are welcomed to call themselves "disabled", or not if they choose. In fact, lots of Deaf people choose not to be labeled "disabled", which I think is the phenomenon Callis is referring to.

The problem is that in a narrow, purely practical sense, Deaf people do have a "disability" … they can't hear, or have significantly impaired hearing. That's what a disability is. It is exactly analogous to not being able to walk (or having difficulty walking), not being able to see (or not being able to see well), or having any other kind of significant, permanent impairment. "Disability" does have social dimensions, and these are pliable. But "disability" is also literal and specific … and not something you can change just by using a different word.

And that's not a prison or anything. Disability isn't "bad" … or "good". It just is. I imagine the reason Deaf people might not want to associate with the word "disability" is that they think it means "less than" or "incapable". Well, it does mean "less than" ordinary hearing ability, and "incapable" of hearing like most people. But it doesn't mean less valuable, or less capable as a person.

That's the beauty of the term … why I actually embrace it. "Disability" is a thing I have, nothing more, nothing less. To me, that's liberating because it acknowledges and describes reality, but doesn't over-state it.

If anyone from the Deaf Community wants to dispute any of this, I'd welcome the discussion. It's fully possible that I'm completely wrong about this.