My recent knee injury has got me thinking a lot about losing a limb. The injury is no biggie, just a muscle tear and some liquid retention. Plenty of rest and it’ll be fine (it’s way better already). One of my biggest fears, alongside circus jokers and happy-face masks, is the fear of losing a limb. In my world, capital punishment would be to cut off a leg or an arm. So for the last 2-3 weeks, I haven’t been able to walk fast or run or work out or play. I couldn’t even sit cross legged. I felt handicapped – which brings me to the topic of my post today. The much debated, revised, re-revised, “(politically) correct term” for a person with physical, cognitive, mental, sensory, emotional or developmental disabilities / handicaps.
Before I start, I would like to state that there is absolutely no necessity for a “term”. Given my way, I would say “people” sums it up, since everyone’s messed up one way or the other. But since our oh-so-inclusive-society is hell-bent on labeling the obvious (and right there they send Inclusive marching out the door), let’s go over the options.
Disabled / Handicapped / Impaired : That’s saying it as it is. And let me be clear here about what I mean about a handicap. I’m fat and agility – impaired. I cannot jump as high as a normal human being nor can I run as fast. That is as much of a handicap as is the lack of sight. You can argue about which takes priority / precedence, in order of importance, over the other, but my case rests. Now, as much as we are referring to a condition here, it is also very much a state of mind. Going by the connotations in which they are used these days, the words “disabled”, “handicapped” and “impaired” ring with negativity in every one of their damned syllables. As a believer of “seeing the glass half full”, I’d say it’s hardly fair to impose on a person such words of utter depression while addressing him / her when he / she is already experiencing a “lack” of something in being or mind. This option has always been ruled out in my mind, purely because I’m not a fan of nasty, depressing words. Also, people call me fat and not handicapped, but that’s a story for another time.
Differently abled: I will not deny, I was a huge fan of this term. Used to go around correcting all my friends when they used the “H” word. Differently abled – what a nice sounding, rosy, positive, rainbow-colored word for something so troubling and sad. I’ll tell you what – we’re selfish hypocrites, the bunch of us. We see a one legged man on a wheelchair and think to ourselves “how sad! he must be miserable. poor man”. A part of us feels bad that we have a beautiful, functioning pair of legs and then there’s this other part that feels glad that we’re not him. That’s fine, only human to feel such things. But then, we do something that is downright stupid. We call him “differently abled”. Why? Not to make him feel “included”, as they say. But to make ourselves feel better, the martyrs that we are. We make an absolute mockery of the man’s life by glorifying him as someone with abilities different than us, “normal” ones. And thereby, ladies and gentlemen, we deny him the very right of inclusion.
Let me ask ourselves a question. Has anyone, till date pointed out what their “different” abilities are? There are some people with extraordinary capabilities – they’re said to be genius, talented, intelligent, brainiacs, “artsy-fartsy” even! (though personally I find that term ridiculous). In my opinion, these are the ones differently abled. But why would we give them such an ambiguous term when we know exactly what their capabilities are? That would be stupid. I’m pretty sure my point has gotten across because I don’t feel like explaining the obvious. It disgusts me, the level to which we can go to make ourselves feel better about the misery, albeit perceived, around us.
I loathe this term because it is the epitome of false hope, “political” brain wash, and absolute hypocrisy. It was coined to glorify something that we do not want to deal with – and hence it was dealt with. I’m not saying people with disabilities cannot do great things. All I’m saying is, call them genuis / talented / intelligent / artsy – fartsy when they DO achieve. Don’t demean them by calling them “differently abled”. Trust me, you’re not handing out lollipops here. There is nothing more repulsive than exaggerated optimism. As much as I believe that the “glass is half full”, I do not believe in “the glass is half full of deep, rich hot chocolate with tiny marshmallows that melt in your mouth”. If this is an inclusive society, our minds should be open to the probability that EVERY person is ABLE.
Challenged: If I’m a blind person and you’re going to tell me that I’m differently abled, I’m not going to believe you. In a world full of people who can see and hence differentiate between the beautiful and ugly, I’m not a differently abled person. I’m disabled. If you question my point of view (pun intended) and say my heightened sense of hearing and my keen sense of intuition is a gift to make up for my lack of vision, I’d say that’s a load of balderdash, because you and I both know that you don’t buy it yourself. Maybe in some alternate universe, I may be gifted, but we live in a world where sight is a primary sense. I’m not differently abled. What I am, is challenged.
I’m challenged to live my life knowing that I will always have to deal with the “evident lack” of something. I’m also challenged to live in a world where I’m not considered “normal” and have to accept the fact that I may be subject to a whole range of emotions starting from repulsion, sadness and sympathy to glorification and exaggerated empathy. I’m challenged to be accepted and make something of my life despite my shortcomings. It’s whether or not I accept the challenge that decides if I’m disabled or not.
The world is always up for labeling. We need a name for everything, we need to define everything. We fail to function in a space of “just is”. People, we all have our disabilities and we are all challenged in some way. Some people don’t have an arm, some people are wired differently in their heads, other people can’t sing while some more people, like me, have issues with body fat. We see the lack of talent, issues like obesity and short sightedness, and others of the kind, as “trivial” and figure out ways to deal with them. Our conception of certain “essential” senses and abilities leads us to believe that people in lack of them are to be pitied / glorified – because in essence, we do not know how to deal with it.
Then again, my opinion must not be misconstrued for being insensitive. We can be sensitive, by all means, we HAVE to be sensitive. I have a friend who can’t sing to save her life, but loves singing. I would gladly help create situations conducive for her to sing – be it punching someone who makes fun of her or just merely putting up with her tone deaf humming. I also have a friend with no arms and I would just as gladly make sure living conditions are such that he can operate with his legs (which he can do very well). Just like why we need ramps in multi-storey buildings and footpaths and hell dance floors in pubs for us poor two-left-feeters! But that’s not called being “inclusive” because they (us) need not be included. That’s just called being a damn fellow human being.
I’ll sum it up in one line – I would love to live to see the day we start accepting that a deaf athlete and an obese cello player are at par in their abilities and challenges.
Stop labeling. Start Accepting.