trails of thought

DEfine us … DEfine yourself … then … REFINE us all

There’s a finely couched and argued post from a couple of months back over at Katy’s blog.  It talks about how the language of disability defines those it is used for.  It’s even-handed, and needs to be, for the debate is more complex than one might have initially imagined.

I had the following thoughts*, and felt I needed to go so far as to say the language also defines those it doesn’t cover:

A very good and useful post.  I also feel strongly about this issue: firstly, because the use of the term/concept disabled person puts state before individual … an able-bodied person is just called a person, right?  So why do we say a disabled person?  Better, at least, a person with disability.

However, I’d go further.  I worked as a Spanish-English translator for a university department in Spain for a while.  They developed thought on disability issues, and had even studied how legislation historically made clear what people thought of the matter: at one time in Spanish legal history I believe (if I remember rightly) the disabled were called “inútiles” (ie the useless).

The term the university department came up with, however, was to be translated into English in the following way: their term in Spanish, “personas con necesidades de apoyo”, became “people with support needs” in English.  Which actually includes everyone sooner or later (few of us, after all, are able to contemplate dying on a golf green at 97 with a full head of hair, all our teeth, no bad cholesterol nor heightened blood pressure …).  So it is possible to define the issue of disability without picking on/picking out those who are soonest in need of support.  It’s also humanising, inclusive, kindly and just.

“People with support needs” has six syllables.  “Disabled people” has five.  Are we really saying an additional syllable makes it impossible to leap towards the kind of inclusive – and highly accurate – language I’ve been striving on and off to give prominence to, and make understood, for a few years now?


* Slightly edited for stylistic reasons.


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