This text was written by Rowan Burdge, and initially appeared in DABC’s Transition journal on Respecting Incapacity Language and Identification. (Summer time 2022). Learn the problem right here.

In the case of speaking about our bodies, I’ve discovered that language is difficult and nuanced.

As somebody dwelling with a continual sickness, the road between disabled and non-disabled just isn’t all the time clear. I’ve struggled with the best way to determine and describe myself, and it’s modified over time. 

Once I first grew to become disabled, I completely didn’t use incapacity language as a result of it didn’t appear applicable, regardless that I used to be on life-sustaining remedy. I assumed “disabled” referred solely to particular disabilities, not sickness, or any type of cultural or political id.

I used to be anxious I wasn’t “disabled sufficient.”  

Attempting to navigate jobs, faculty, friendships and communities as somebody who has a continual sickness just isn’t simple. We have a tendency to think about incapacity as a static, unchanging, binary class, however to me it simply isn’t.

My incapacity, and the way in which the exterior world treats it (and me) is dynamic. It’s ever-transforming and in motion on a spectrum of wellness much more delicate than “disabled” vs. “non-disabled.”

A Disabling World

My experiences of ableism, and the stigma round sickness and incapacity, have taught me that making an attempt to specific the challenges of chronically in poor health life is usually as complicated because the precise medical challenges themselves.

My physique just isn’t an issue. The best way the world treats and defines me and my incapacity, and the ridiculously costly medical payments, are the actively disabling components of my illness. I expertise ableism that disables me which is why I now declare the phrase “disabled.”


One of many phrases I take advantage of for myself is “spoonie.” For many us spoonies, incapacity is interwoven into our lives. Spoon idea (coined by Christine Miserandino) is a much less binary method of understanding incapacity.

It’s a shorthand solution to say I’m having a foul day or want additional help, with out having to medically clarify.

If I’m drained, I’m low spoons. I can say, “sorry, out of spoons” or “my spoons are low, so I’ll be leaving early” to assist navigate my entry wants and rapidly clarify my wellness/vitality ranges. I’ve observed even non-disabled individuals who have low capability for different explanations can determine with and simply perceive this language.

Are Our Wants “Particular”?

I see lots of people use phrases like “particular wants” or “particular talents.” In my view, these expressions add a layer of confusion.

My pancreas doesn’t work. It implies that one in all my common wants is to inject insulin–that’s simply part of my norm. It’s not “particular.”

Once we body wants as particular, it makes it appear distinctive to require completely different wants from different our bodies, regardless that all our bodies are distinctive and require completely different helps.

Incapacity is a standard a part of life, however ableism has undermined that normality.

Discovering Your Distinctive Identification

There may be quite a lot of debate about person-first (particular person with a incapacity) vs. id first (disabled particular person) language.

One a part of the controversy is how ableism teaches us to be ashamed of incapacity. I’ve spent quite a lot of time unpacking this and unlearning that disgrace.

For me, person-first language locates the incapacity within the particular person, whereas I see incapacity as a cultural, shared expertise of lives that are priceless, distinctive, sensible and part of numerous human experiences. Incapacity has additionally change into part of my political id and the way I transfer by means of the world. I’m pleased with my disabled experiences and id.

Now, I take advantage of the phrase disabled to point this pleasure within the collective expertise of non-normative methods of being on the earth.

Different language I like and am rising into extra is “crip.” I see cripping as a verb — a method of cripping issues up, unsettling, de-norming and including that additional aptitude that solely disabled people can pull off. Crip and mad people (see the field on this web page) that I do know are artistic and resourceful, and a few are downright hilarious.

There’s a softness, tenderness, and solidarity locally care I really feel with different spoonies, crips, mad people, disabled people and wider incapacity (justice) areas.

I’m additionally rising into the language of cyborg, however I’m nonetheless grappling with that. Considered one of my human organs (pancreas) is changed by a beeping plastic machine (my insulin pump). I discover it fascinating to consider the implications of getting a mechanical physique half. What a wild factor–{that a} small a part of me is robotic.

It’s an Vital Dialog

Everybody’s expertise is completely different and people have their very own artistic language for the way they describe themselves. For me, it isn’t insulting to be referred to as disabled, it’s only a reality.

My sickness is a part of my on a regular basis life and my id. It’s all the time a aid to spend time with different folks with non-normative body-minds, be it sick/disabled/spoonie people, trans and gender non-conforming folks, individuals who dwell with continual ache or poor people who perceive there are difficult boundaries that individuals can’t see till you might be able the place you require entry.

Individuals should be humanized, revered and cared for, no matter disabilities. Utilizing the suitable and chosen language of every particular person is such a easy method of doing this. If you happen to don’t know, ask what phrases folks desire!

Incapacity, sickness and impairments are a part of human life — and most of us in some unspecified time in the future will grapple with them, whether or not in short-term kind, acquired incapacity, age-related modifications or as ongoing built-in components of our lives.

De-stigmatizing disabled language helps de-stigmatize incapacity itself and provides us extra instruments to speak about it.

Mad People

The Mad Delight motion started in 1993 in Toronto.

Mad Delight believes and advocates that individuals with psychological sickness must be pleased with their “mad” id. “Mad people” is utilized by some to self-identify with pleasure.

Activists need to reclaim this time period and others, and use them in a constructive, empowering method.

Rowan (she/they) is a white settler on conventional, ancestral and unceded xʷməθkʷiy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and səlilwətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) territories, house of the Hul’q’umi’num’ talking peoples. A queer, chronically in poor health and disabled advocate and organizer, Rowan is captivated with incapacity justice, fairness, land again and queer liberation. They at present work because the Provincial Director with the BC Poverty Discount Coalition.


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