Sep 052016

Crippen Cartoon - child pointing at a row of identical people in wheelchairs, saying "Oh look, its the disabled"Disabled people are about as a diverse a group as you can imagine, amongst our number we have people of all different colours, creeds and cultures. We have people of all We have people of all sexualities, ages, and genders and more.

We are all different. Disabled people have different opinions, political preferences, likes and dislikes. Some are wealthy and some live in abject poverty.

Some disabled people like sport, some are very good at it. Others prefer the garden, art *, socialising, being quiet with a good book, or any one of thousands of pastimes. But we share the same hopes, fears,  dreams, expectations and aspirations as everyone else. Our days are made up of our jobs, our families, our interests. Just like you.

Disabled people then only have one thing in common. That we are …… disabled people.

Other than that, we aren’t any different, we aren’t special, we aren’t less.

Crippen Cartoon 2 disabled people, one saying "Be Normal? But what makes you think we'd want to lower our standards"We are parents, partners, neighbours, friends, work colleagues, sons and daughters.
Our lives aren’t much different than most people’s – except when barriers created by society, institutions and attitudes make our lives more difficult than they need to be.

And by the way we don’t mind you talking about disabled people, in fact we want you to talk about disability, and learn about it and we want to talk about it with you. But please when you talk about it, do it in a way that affords us respect as human beings, We are mostly, just like you.

There’s more later on about good and bad ways to discuss disabled people and disability. But first its worth looking at the phrase “Disabled People” and what it means to us.

Disabled People and “The Social Model”

The thing that differentiates a disabled person from a non-disabled person, is that the disabled person has one (or more) impairments.

Disabled people take impairment to mean a lessening or loss of function. The function might be physical, mental, cognitive, learning or a wide range of other kinds of function.

So as disabled people we have impairments but most times we can adapt our way around our impairments, use aids or equipment or a host of other methods enable us. That part we can take care of ourselves, that’s what disabled people do every day.

But the bit that’s out of our control are “social barriers”.

Crippen, Rules for the institution cartoonThink of a social barrier in this way: we live in a society that’s designed by, built for, and used by non disabled people. Because of poor historic attitudes to disabled people, (even though some people at the time thought they meant well), disabled people were effectively locked away in hospitals, sanatoriums, in care homes or other kinds of institution.

And that meant that we were excluded from the development of the way our society works, the way our buildings are designed, transport systems, education systems, machines and appliances, leisure activities and the world of work anything really that you care to think about was designed at a time when disabled people weren’t included in the process.

And that means that all these things don’t work in a way that enables us to use them.

And the upshot of all that is that in hundreds of different ways, some big, some seemingly small, its difficult for us to take a full part in all kinds of activities that non-disabled people take for granted.

So we believe that its not our impairments that disable us, it is the social barriers that disable us. Our own impairments we can adapt and/or use aids to overcome, but social barriers are out of our control. This is what we call The Social Model. (You can read more about the social model here)

Crippen Strip Cartoon about Social Barriers

So the phrase “Disabled Person” is actually a term meaning “Disabled by social barriers person”.

But things are changing. Through a mixture of decades of disability campaigning, better technology, wider awareness and new laws and rights that disabled people have strived to obtain, we are slowly beginning to challenge the social barriers that disable us.

But as if that wasn’t enough, governments since the 2008 financial crash have made it much harder for us to have basic financial support due to the cuts in every area. If fact austerity has been targeted at disabled people 9 times more than the general population and people with high or complex support needs have been targeted 19 times more than the non-disabled population.

The cumulative effect of these cuts is that progress towards disabled people’s equality has been halted and even reversed in many areas of our lives.

So there is a helluva long way to go yet, but we are beginning to enable ourselves to take an equal place in what used to be your society into what we are determined to evolve into our shared society.

Crippen cartoon about disabled people as campaignersYou can read more about the history of disabled people’s campaigns for equality up to 2010 here and you can find out more about the effect of austerity since 2010 here and on disabled people at the Disabled People Against Cuts Website

The good and the bad – respectful ways to refer to disabled people.

Recommended ways to talk about disabled people and disability issues

Just refer to us as disabled people then talk to us and about us with words that you would use to refer to any other people.

Don’t feel awkward or embarrassed talking to us about being disabled people cos we’re not awkward or embarrassed about ourselves. Just talk to us like you would anyone else, its really that simple.

Things to avoid saying or writing please (cos we hate it when you say these things)

Avoid the disabled, the blind, the deaf;

Like you wouldn’t say “The Blacks” or “The Gays” would you? So please – call us disabled people. Cos we’re people. And we happen to be disabled.. To call any group of people ‘the’ anything is to dehumanise them. Use blind people, deaf people or disabled people.

The opposite of ‘disabled’ is not ‘able-bodied’ or

abled’, but ‘non-disabled’.

Because a lot of impairments that disabled people have are not physical! Impairments come in all imaginable forms. And we don’t consider non-disabled people to be any more able than we are, so its non-disabled please.

Avoid saying you are “Inspired”

This one really hacks off a lot of disabled people. Sorry but we don’t exist just to be your inspiration. If you want to be inspired, take up an new religion, learn to paint or go and look at a mountain, but leave us out of it please.

Avoid Vulnerable

Disabled people are not vulnerable, not any more than you are. We are sometimes prevented from doing things by barriers that are not of our making but that isn’t due to any vulnerability of ours.

Crippen Cartoon about stereotypes land labels

Avoid terms of pity

We’re not asking for anyone’s pity, we don’t want or need anyone’s pity.

Avoid using stereotypes

Just like with any grouping in society, to use stereotypes to describe members of that group is just plain wrong.

Avoid ‘people with disabilities’

Saying “people with disabilities” is to say that the disability is a facet of the disabled person. As described above, we don’t agree with that, we think the disability comes from the barriers that are put in our way.

Avoid victim of;

We’re not victims. We don’t have a “victim” mindset and we don’t want people to see us in that way.

Avoid suffering from:

We are not suffering. We are just like you. Except we face more barriers than you do.

Avoid wheelchair bound:

Use wheelchair user , Wheelchair users see their wheelchair as a means of mobility and freedom, not

something that restricts them, apart from problems with lack of access.

Note: many in America, Canada and Australia and New Zealand tend to use people with disabilities instead of disabled people.

Cartons included with permission, by Dave Lupton, with thanks

With thanks to the unknown author of The Language of Respect on which this piece is based.

* See an exhibition of disabled people’s are here


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 Posted by at 13:25

  One Response to “A guide to disabled people, for non-disabled people”

  1. Atos and dwp or taking away my wife pip so now she is getting more I’ll and she won’t be to work. So shes going to end up back in hospital and on benefits so what can you do with a nazi government. How’s that saveing money. The government or killing disabled or something.And that’s the torys nazi government. Anyone can end up with a disability.

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