Disability…A Evolving Definition

Yesterday’s NAMIWalk was yet another real “eye opener”.

Compared with only 2 short years ago, the quote “disabled” folks there were upbeat, clear eyed, and seemed healthier and more centered than in my years of experience. They were positive, used positive language, and were able to laugh at our collective short-comings. Basically, they were an inspiration. Also, the support systems (people walking with them wearing support t-shirts or not) were incredible.

Thinking about how far I’ve come personally led me to consider how the term “disability” applies to me, and others, now. Yes, I’m still on SSI (for now!) and still struggle more than I’d like. But if you met me, you’d probably see me as a friendly, warm, and open person. Not twitchy, closed down, or anxious.

The good news is with all the advocacy, advancements, and support the last few years have brought to our community, there has been a profound shift in public perception and that includes a critical definition change of the word “Disabled”.

Take a look at the -1982 Webster’s New World Thesaurus: Print Issue Defintion of “Disability“-:

Disabled, a. crippled, helpless, useless, wrecked, stalled, maimed, wounded, mangled, lame, multilated, run-down, worn-out, weakened, impotent, castrated, paralyzed, handicapped, senile, decrepit, *laid up, *done up, *done for, *done in, *cracked up, *counted out; see also hurt, useless, weak. Ant. Healthy, strong, capable.”

After years of advocacy in every sector, a new and real-life definition is now in place:

– 2012 Merriam Webster Dictionary definition of “Disability”:

1a: the condition of being disabled b: inability to pursue an occupation because of a physical or mental impairment; also: a program providing financial support to one affected by disability <went on disability after the injury>

2: lack of legal qualification to do something

3: a disqualification, restriction, or disadvantage

The change is glaring but let’s think about the ramifications. 20 short years ago the disabled were considered “helpless”, “crippled”, “wrecked”, “useless”, “worn out”. How could anyone with any kind of mental, emotional, or physical challenge look at the definition and believe they had any chance of improving their circumstances? Or having a better future when they were considered “done in”?

But now today’s definition basically says that for whatever reason we’re currently not able to pursue an occupation; to work. Not crippled or useless, just not able to work. No wonder the people I saw and met yesterday spoke and acted more empowered than I’ve seen in years. No poor me’s, sad sacks, or whiners. Just people like me who seemed to share the idea that we are “in recovery” from our condition. Who could buy into the idea of planning next year’s walk, of getting married, of being grateful for all the supportive, loving people in their lives. Of believing in a better future for themselves.

We’ve certainly come a long way baby!

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