I, and others, have been mulling over how to refer to people who are not disabled. Roughly, our options seem to be:

* normal, or non-marked identity: centering a certain body/mind as “normal” necessarily implies that any difference makes a person less than. It tends to imply that “normal” is accepted as good, whole, while non-normal is bad, wrong, diminishing.

* able-bodied, which seems to be the settled-upon term: excludes people with non-physical disabilities — and I have had so many people write me expressing that they feel their non-physical conditions didn’t “count” as disability, and it just makes my heart cry.

* temporarily-able-bodied: I love this term, because it makes clear: at any time in life, you may become disabled, due to age, injury, late-manifesting genetics, or social barriers. Your privilege will not always be with you, so pay attention, because you might find yourself on the other side of the fence at any point. But this still centers physical disability and excludes non-physical disability.

* neurotypical, physiotypyical: NT is a term used in the autistic community to describe persons whose neurological makeup conforms to the expected norm, but it doesn’t describe conditions which are not neurological in nature. Physiotypical might cover those conditions, but it requires using both terms, and still may not be truly comprehensive. I can’t come up with any good, comprehensive word to describe the range of disability (mental, physical, neither/both) to use as a prefix in place of “neuro-” and “physio-“.

* normative: I like this term because it emphasizes the social conformity rather than some inherent difference; think heteronormative. I just can’t find a good word to combine it with to describe the category of ability rather than heterosexuality.

* non-disabled: functional, but we tend to want a specific term to describe the privileged category — which is why trans community members came up with “cis” to describe people whose gender identity is consistent with their assigned gender.

* abled, fully-able: I have been leaning on these terms as the most neutral of the set of options, but they still just don’t seem to describe what we’re trying to describe — and referring to an able-privileged person as “fully able” may be inaccurate; ability is not a binary.

I think, though, I’ve finally settled on the term I’m comfortable with: Temporarily Non-Disabled.

This harnesses the power of temporarily able-bodied but without excluding non-physical disabilities. And it is a longer term but easily condensed to TND. We’ve got enough acronyms going, so why not? And I’m actually rather excited — this is a language quirk that has bothered me for some time, so having a term that seems to fit right is a considerable comfort to me.

Thoughts? People with disabilities — of any sort — please feel free to comment. Does TND seem like the best choice to you? Do you see any problems with it? Do you prefer something else? What makes the most sense to you?

(Cross-posted at Three Rivers Fog.)

ETA: Anna points out in comments that this is somewhat US-centric: UK disability advocates tend to use “disabled person” and “non-disabled person” as opposed to “person with a disability” or “person without a disability” (people-first language). And other countries may have different approaches as well. Something to keep in mind.

ETA 2: Many people in comments bring up the word “currently” in place of “temporary” and most people seem much more comfortable with this terminology. Currently Non-Disabled/Currently Able? It fits just as well for me – read through the comments to see what other people are saying. It’s a great thread so far.

ETA 3: anon in comments: “So it seems to me we are often referring to segments of population that are not merely “undisabled” — they are actually ENabled by the social constructs that are not merely neutral but support their particular conditions.”

I want this to be a safe commenting space for people with disabilities. Non-disabled people, please respect the words of PWD and avoid denying a person’s feelings and experiences. You carry privilege, so step carefully, and listen carefully to what people are telling you. I’m not afraid to break out the pandas again for unacceptable comments. Thanks.

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97 comments for “Perfect

  1. July 7, 2009 at 2:07 pm

    As when I write about people of colour/non-white people, I try to remember the international audience. As you know, Amandaw, people in the UK tend to go fine with “disabled person”, because the “disabled” in this case is specifically referring to social models of disability. But North Americans tend to go with people-first language, so go with “people with disabilities” instead. (I am unclear on Australia – I know Lauredhel and Tigtog both use PWD, but I haven’t branched out to read much more beyond them. And there are, of course, other English-speaking places.)

    I like temporarily non-disabled because I think it embraces both of those, as well as embracing the idea that disability isn’t just physical. I’ve been uncomfortable with TAB for some time because of that aspect.

    Those are my thoughts.

  2. July 7, 2009 at 2:12 pm

    Yep, Anna — I caught your comment right after I published this. Should note the US centrism in the post perhaps?

    I do pay attention, but I also don’t really have much of a schooling background — most of what I’ve learned has been on-the-go — so a lot of the basics behind this stuff, I’m filling gaps in as I go ‘cuz I didn’t get that basis to start off.

    Thanks for noting that.

  3. July 7, 2009 at 2:14 pm

    I only learn by the reading myself. I’m lucky in that I’ve got a lot of international folks I interact with on these internets. *hugs internets*

    I would mention it. I think I can find some links about UK usage when I get home from work tonight.

  4. July 7, 2009 at 2:15 pm

    Since there are so many different kinds of disabilities, I don’t think there could be one word to describe everyone with a disability and everyone without a disability. They’re not two distinct groups. I think this is one of those things where you just have to settle on “people with [blank]” and “people without [blank].”

  5. July 7, 2009 at 2:19 pm

    Links would definitely be appreciated, Anna.

    Thick Red Glasses: the problem is, when we are speaking about disability issues, structural societal access problems, the system of privilege, and so forth — it is hard sometimes to really take those conversations to an advanced level without a way to refer to a category of people. In this case, people without disabilities. I think it is completely fair for us to discuss what term is the best description for that category, in a way that fits with our overall world-view and conception of disability issues.

  6. tara
    July 7, 2009 at 2:28 pm

    another option is “typical.” which i particularly like because it is also ironic in terms of “mainstream” society, both for a real label and a challenging one for counter culture folks without disabilities – in that it is marking privilege.
    i also like people without disabilities myself.

    i also want to say that there certainly is a disabilities studies movement in the U.S. that centers disability in language, (disability first language as opposed to person first language) as well.


  7. July 7, 2009 at 2:41 pm

    I find it odd that you think “normal” carries more of an implication of “good” than “normative;” I have the opposite response to the two terms. No doubt this is partly because my first response to the latter term is to think of technical uses in my field (philosophy) rather than examples like your “heteronormative.” I also tend to equate “normal” with “boring.” Hmmm, perhaps “boring” would be a good word for the non-disabled? Which includes how many people, anyway? I suppose I don’t normally think of myself as disabled, but I need glasses and have a couple of extremely common psychological issues I take meds for.

  8. marian
    July 7, 2009 at 2:42 pm

    What about currently able? I like current over temporary because it implies a more fluid state of ability; whatever past or future ability might be, the term describes the present. It stays close to “able” which, as you mentioned, familiar and easy to understand, but it also goes in the same direction as TND.

  9. Butch Fatale
    July 7, 2009 at 2:42 pm

    I like the idea of currently non-disabled rather than temporarily. Temporarily makes me think “impending disability” whereas currently evokes uncertainty. But I likely haven’t been thinking about this as long as many other people. I started receiving accommodations this year at school (for MCS/asthma and ADHD), so I’ve started thinking about myself as being roughly grouped into “disabled” but I don’t identify with the term. I guess this goes back to what you were talking about in a previous post about visibility and what “counts” as a disability. I don’t think of my ADHD as a disability so much as a really unpredictable superpower. But the MCS can be debilitating. I guess all this goes to saying where I sit in all of this. tl;dr.

  10. July 7, 2009 at 2:51 pm

    I personally like “normative” and tara’s “typical” suggestion, simply because they are short, to-the-point, and largely accurate. (I also don’t see anything wrong with “normal,” although I can understand why others do – but then, my father has a disability and in traditional my-dad fashion just calls himself “crippled,” so I’m probably skewed to begin with.)

    I personally don’t feel “temporarily non-disabled” or “temporarily able-bodied” really fits all non-disabled people, simply because many people live into old age and death with completely healthy bodies and minds (or as close as one can get to that–at any rate, not disabled).

    However, I understand the need to point out the privilege here, and I’m willing to adopt whatever term emerges.

    (I hope none of that was transgressive…My father is only newly disabled and these issues are pretty new to my family and I. Feel free to bring on the pandas if it was.)

  11. July 7, 2009 at 2:58 pm

    The reason people use temporarily able-bodied or temporarily non-disabled is because, statistically speaking, people in North America will spend 7 years living with a disability, whether through illness, injury, or aging. That may be something as “simple” as a broken leg, or as complicated as cancer treatment, or as … something, the words escape me… as aging.

    Now, this is a generalisation. We all know someone who lived to be X years old, as hale and hearty as could be. No loss in hearing, no change in energy levels, no mobility issues, no cataracts, no broken limbs, no problems with memory, ect ect ect.

    But, in general, this will happen to most people at some time. And that’s why the term is “temporarily”. We want to remind you that you couple trip tomorrow and suddenly be wondering why the hell there’s no curb cuts in your city.

  12. RMJ
    July 7, 2009 at 3:00 pm

    I think that normative is problematic, especially with all the ongoing conversation about “cis women” versus “normal women” in trans spaces (if that makes sense). Disability is normal – everyone is dependent at some point, as currently/temporarily able-bodied suggest.

    I also prefer currently to temporarily for the reasons Butch Fatale outlines. But I do like the temporal sense to both of those terms. I have OCD that’s manageable except when triggered by hormones (any form of birth control usually), so currently non-disabled describes me most of the time without discounting my past experience with mental disability.

  13. July 7, 2009 at 3:17 pm

    Thanks, Anna, I didn’t know that. I guess I’ve been pretty lucky so far, or else haven’t recognized some disabling conditions as disabilities.

    Taking that into consideration, I agree with the commenters who preferred “currently” over “temporarily,” for the same reasons they stated. “Temporarily” would seem to be more apt for people with disabilities that come and go – SAD, bipolar, severe arthritis that is affected by weather, and so on – while “currently” seems to fit better for people with no present disabilities. Again, though, I don’t currently have any disabilities, so I can’t really see both sides and will therefore bow out. :)

  14. sharkchop
    July 7, 2009 at 3:26 pm

    My mom, who sustained injuries that left her unable to walk and in constant pain, describes herself as “differently abled.” She recently used that term to refer to a new friend, who took some offense. It lead to a long discussion on how that was othering, and what other terms she might use. My mom chose to stick with differently-abled for herself, but would never apply that term to someone else again. I was lucky to be privy to that conversation.

    We talked some about currently ND vs. Temporarily ND and (as someone who fits into that category) I feel as though “currently” fits me better. Temporarily seems to imply that I was at one time disabled, and seems to imply that there is a definite end point. While one could argue that most people lose certain abilities toward the end of their lives, “temporary” just doesn’t feel like the right word.

    That said, I understand I have privilege, and would never want to use a term that made people uncomfortable just because it sounded better to me.

  15. Jadey
    July 7, 2009 at 3:31 pm

    I also find “currently” to be more powerful than “temporary” because personally I find “temporary” to suggest a more dichotomous “first one is and then one isn’t”, while “currently” seems to allow for the potential of multiple changes in one’s status. I guess I’m saying that “temporary” seems more future-focused and predictive, and “currently” seems more present-focused and future-flexible. But I think both are effective at conveying that one’s ability privilege is not a birth right, but a *privilege*.

    I hadn’t thought about the problematic connotations of “able-bodied” before, but that analysis seems on the money. I suppose one might say, “temporarily/currently able-bodied and able-minded”, but that seems clunky and still reinforcing a dichotomy between physical and mental disabilities that I don’t believe is necessary — the mind and the body are not distinct and mutually-exclusive entities. I feel like “temporarily/currently non-disabled” (or perhaps even “temporarily/currently abled”? Or will that attract too many grammar arguments?) is a good compromise. But I guess theory must be borne out in practice!

    My issue with terms like “normal”, “normative”, and “typical” are pretty well demonstrated by this thread already — too many different evaluations and interpretations by different folk.

    Amandaw, thanks for hosting this discussion, and for responding to the comment on the need for cross-cultural input. Actually, I’m also interested in how this terminology has been tackled (or fumbled) in languages other than English.

  16. Lindsay
    July 7, 2009 at 3:31 pm

    “Temporarily non-disabled” carries an air of smugness that I find unpleasant; as in, ‘people who aren’t but certainly will soon enough be or have already at some point been disabled.’ Why not currently non-disabled? Carries no connotation about future or past ability status, just now.

  17. July 7, 2009 at 3:31 pm

    I’m torn between currently and temporarily – both evoke that feeling of transience, but temporarily hammers home the fact that the vast majority of people will be disabled at some point in their lives – on the other hand, some people won’t be and the mathematician in me dislikes the inaccuracy there. At any rate, I really like both of them, and adding it to “nondisabled” seems to lessen the unmarkedness of using “non-“, if that makes any sense.

    And as I mentioned on the last post, add me to the count of people who feel really excluded by “able-bodied”. I’ve tried and tried to tell myself that the brain is a body part and therefore both my Asperger’s and my speech disorder (with its probable neurological basis) should fall under that, but it’s very hard to think that way and it doesn’t help to know that the vast majority of people will not do so. Frankly, I find any of the alternatives (well, apart from “normal” – ugh!) better than that. I have a slight fondness for neuro/physiotypical because I really like “neurotypical” as it’s used in autism and other neuroatypical communities, but that is rather a mouthful. Simply “typical” doesn’t work for me because, again, it doesn’t specify in which way; I know plenty of TNDs who could hardly be called typical.

    • July 7, 2009 at 4:54 pm


      (oops, I got further in the comment thread and saw your second comment – thanks for coming back with this! I’m going to leave my comment up just as a very basic rebuttal – but thanks for approaching things openly.)

      There is always some response from privileged persons when non-privileged persons debate what seems best to call them, that there is smugness/rudeness/etc. (I just removed a comment to that effect) and it’s mean to refer to them in any way that actually acknowledges they have privilege and how the system works.

      So while I would prefer not to offend people, and I would take that into consideration to see if there actually is some issue behind the complaint that dehumanizes/diminishes/whatever the privileged group, I don’t think it does so in this instance.

  18. Lindsay
    July 7, 2009 at 3:33 pm

    Ah sorry, didn’t read all of the comments. Will totally understand if mine isn’t approved–now I’ve learned my lesson :)

  19. July 7, 2009 at 3:34 pm

    I like both TND and CND, but I’m leaning toward “currently”. As someone with a most-of-the-time managed chronic pain condition, I feel like that reflects my experience better, in that I might be completly functioning one day and completely non-functioning another, thus, while I can certainly relate to many aspects of disability, I also pass 90% of the time and face only a small slice of what someone with a more permanent, non-treatable condition might face.

  20. anna.licious
    July 7, 2009 at 4:00 pm

    I am so happy to read this post, and that disability issues are being discussed in such depth on this site.

    Until I turned 18, I was a relatively healthy, “normative” young woman. For the last five years, however, I have been living with migraines, anxiety/depression, and two digestive disorders/syndromes that have significantly interrupted my life on numerous occasions– and were actually only diagnosed yesterday despite three years of medical tests and wrong diagnoses. Because of the nature of these disorders, I have to watch what I eat extremely carefully and totally change the process by which I consume food (chewing, number of meals a day, etc), avoid stressful situations, and take medication daily…and even then, I’m probably always going to have bad days and good days.

    For the last two years or so, I’ve been searching for a way to describe myself before and after these health problems started. Temporarily able-bodied certainly pertains to “before,” as does “normative.” For me, though, “normative” describes how I perceived my identity, while “temporarily able-bodied” describes my former identity itself.

    Like many of the posters above, I prefer “currently” to “temporarily” to describe people who are not living/have never lived with any disabling conditions. It strikes me as the more accurate and less assumptive of the two. I’d reserve “normative” for currently able-bodied people (often well-meaning) whose privilege clouds their perception of their, and others’, bodies– i.e. the ex-flame who abandoned me in an ER last summer during a migraine that behaved more like a stroke, or anyone who tells me “Oh it’s not that bad. Everyone’s a little irregular sometimes. Have you tried Activia?”

    In summation, disability is an incredibly complex subject and I’m sure everyone has a different opinion on the language that should be used to describe it, but it’s *incredibly* refreshing to read posts that take this issue so seriously. Feministe FTW!

  21. yukro
    July 7, 2009 at 4:22 pm

    Not Apparently Disabled: We all have disabilities. This speaks to that.
    Not Disability-Identified: Honors choice in labeling
    Passably Abled: My Tongue-in-cheek contribution
    Low-percentage Disabled: I am legally 3% disabled. This translated to a specific dollar amount way back when, but is now 97% meaningless.

  22. falloch
    July 7, 2009 at 4:25 pm

    ‘Currently abled’ wins my vote – it acknowledges the potentially transient nature of being abled, while dwelling in the present, and not having any negatives like ‘non’. Also, the shorter the label the better (i.e. less syllables): it’s easier to remember and currently abled people need a quick but sharp reminder of how we go through the world compared to PWDs. And I agree with anna.licious: ‘disability is an incredibly complex subject … and everyone has a different opinion on the language.’ The only problem I can envision is that ‘currently abled’ people can experience some temporary disability like I am right now, but feel reasonably assured that we’ll return to being ‘currently abled’ again, and this may detract from the definition. I don’t know if I’m conveying this sense very well and would appreciated some feedback.

  23. July 7, 2009 at 4:26 pm

    I’ve been disabled my entire life – I have Muscular Dystrophy, scoliosis, and use a trach for breathing. I like the word “disabled” because I am disabled from walking, dressing myself, etc. I don’t, however, like when people refer to me as “totally disabled” because that isn’t true. That one word changes the whole meaning.

    For people who aren’t disabled, I often use the word “normal” when talking to other disabled people – because it’s short, sweet, to the point, and I know they don’t think “that means disabled people are NOT normal!”. I wouldn’t use the word “normal” around able-bodied/minded people because I don’t want them to think it’s okay to use that term or to think that disabled people are somehow abnormal. I use the terms able-bodied or/and able-minded. I know both are problematic, but it’s what I’ve been using and what I find the LEAST offensive.

    Also, I wanted to bring up this “but everyone is disabled in some way!” stuff that I’ve seen in the previous post on disability. No, everyone is not disabled in some way. If that was true, we would not be here discussing issues of privilege. That is one of my disability pet peeves :)

    I’m really happy that disability is getting some air time here on Feministe. Thanks, Amanda!

  24. September Blue
    July 7, 2009 at 4:30 pm

    Another vote for ‘currently’ over ‘temporarily’ here, from a perspective that I dearly hope won’t come across in as privileged and downright whiny a way as I fear it might.

    I have a genetic condition that doesn’t disadvantage me in any significant way. (I’m visually impaired, but not severely so, and don’t consider myself disabled.) However, my condition does sometimes cause drastic and unpleasant changes later in life – brain atrophy, etc. There’s no particular reason to think that’ll happen in my case, but my condition is changing in a way that neither I nor the doctors I’ve seen quite understand, so I get worried sometimes. ‘Currently’ does a better job, from my perspective, of making me focus on my non-disabled state (and the fact that I can’t assume it’s forever); ‘temporarily’ makes me focus more on my specific condition, and freaks me out accordingly.

    I certainly don’t want to suggest that terms like this one should be chosen with my comfort level in mind, and I have a horrible feeling this is just what I’ve done anyway – in which case, I am really sorry. What I’m trying to say is that reminding non-disabled people that there are many possible, hypothetical circumstances that could make them disabled isn’t necessarily the same as reminding those of us who feel like we have a sword of Damocles hanging over our heads that it’s right there, and I feel like ‘currently’ is a better choice for that reason.

  25. Dymphna
    July 7, 2009 at 4:37 pm

    I prefer “currently.” It gets across the same idea as “temporarily” without seeming so pointed as to be likely to inspire unproductive defensiveness.

    I tend to use “atypical/typical” rather than “disabled/abled” in a lot of circumstances when I want to talk about conditions that may not be experienced by the individual as disabling. The atypical/typical terminology does not exclude the idea of conditions being disabling, but neither does it require that to be the case in order to be included. So, for example, my atypical neurochemistry that results in an elevated level of anxiety under certain circumstances is not something that I experience as concretely disabling, except inasmuch as it is a difference that is not accepted by some more neurotypical individuals. Whereas my atypical sensitivity to certain physical stimuli (e.g. heat) which results in chronic migraines is something that I do experience as disabling when medication is not sufficient to manage it (and also disabling just by right of the fact that it costs me extra money every month and makes it harder to get health insurance coverage).

    I think the typical/atypical thing breaks down in a lot of ways, though, since it implies some objective notion of what “typical” is. It comes accross as clinical enough language that it implies to me a scientific judgement of something measurable and absolute. For that reason I like normative a lot, since it picks up both the ideas contained in typical/atypical while also pointing to the social constructions involved in such classifications. It also makes somewhat more explicit the idea that some of the ways in which we experience our conditions as being disabling is a result of social constructions rather than physical inevitabilities (e.g. the way my migraines = less money per month).

    I tend to like the both/and kind of terms in general.

  26. jed
    July 7, 2009 at 5:04 pm

    I have been disabled by heart disease for 12 years. I have no problem with “normal”. I don’t try to pry all that other baggage into the definition. It is not worth the time and effort trying to make an issue of it. Take the word for what it is and move on to issues with substance, like increasing SocSec disability benefits or lowering the costs borne by patients on Medicare.

    • July 7, 2009 at 5:18 pm


      You should allocate your energy however works best for you — but that doesn’t mean you get to tell other people not to pay attention to other things too.

      Trust me, the food-on-the-table stuff is important to me too — I think the SSDI payments are a joke, the system is a complete mess… and I advocate that stuff too. But I also think it is valuable to address language issues, which get to the root of how the system is set up, so hopefully we can set up a better one.

      • July 7, 2009 at 5:44 pm

        anon, point taken – if any of you weren’t aware, the deaf community does have issues with having the word “disabled” applied to deaf people – and I undestand and respect that POV, certainly.

        Tho I will ask that you be careful of then using the word “disabled” and the concept of disability as a diminishing force on a person – disability is not an insult, something to be ashamed of or something that makes one a lesser person – we are whole, capable, and worthy of respect just as anyone else.

  27. SeanTheSean
    July 7, 2009 at 5:05 pm

    “Normative” doesn’t work when applied to people – it means about what’s normal, as in “normative theories of disability”, rather than being normal.

    I’ve tended to use “able-bodied”, which is odd since my disability is mental. I think “currently non-disabled” is probably the best, for all the reasons everyone’s gone over.

  28. anon
    July 7, 2009 at 5:35 pm

    I call all y’all hearies. Works for me.

  29. anon
    July 7, 2009 at 5:37 pm

    There is also the “problem” (which to my mind isn’t one but we know how all that goes) of “dealing with” those “annoying disabled people” who don’t actually consider themselves disabled. Deaf people rarely do.

  30. Marle
    July 7, 2009 at 5:38 pm

    I vote for “currently”, for reasons that everyone else has said better by now, and I vote for “abled” to follow that, just because it’s short. :)

    I don’t like using “normal” for people with privilege, just because it seems kinda mean. Like everyone else is weird and strange.

    Though I think yukro’s post was a joke, I think “Not Apparently Disabled” would be a good phrase to use for people you don’t think are disabled, but don’t really know. I think the more people would use a term like that, the more it would remind us not to assume that because someone looks ok that they don’t have any invisible disabilities.

  31. July 7, 2009 at 5:46 pm

    Two questions:

    1. So, does this mean that we as commenters to this blog will be able to select from amongst the various options you have presented, amandaw, without being flamed? You, after all, have made your selection. I am not being sarcastic, by the way; I raise the question respectfully and with all seriousness.

    2. I would hope that this is a safe place for all of us who aren’t fully privileged in our society, including those who are disabled.

    • July 7, 2009 at 5:48 pm


      1. As long as the comment is made from a place of good faith and with respect for the particular issues in question — and also open to criticism, as there are many, many issues in any discussion about disability that we will trip over when trying to speak candidly about it — those comments will be accepted.

      2. You’d be surprised.

  32. July 7, 2009 at 6:00 pm

    Amandaw and others re: d/Deaf.

    With the disclaimer that I Am Not An Expert (being a hearing person):

    Little-d deaf refers to the condition of deafness. Big-D Deaf is Deaf culture. My understanding is that Deaf people are part of a linguistic minority whose language is Sign.

    I have Opinions on this, but I don’t think they’re relevant to anything.

  33. Ruchama
    July 7, 2009 at 6:04 pm

    Interesting discussion. I’d heard “temporarily able-bodied” before, and liked the concept, but felt like “temporarily” wasn’t quite the right word. I think I like “currently able” best of the options considered here. “Temporarily able” seems more like the way I’d describe myself during a period in between flare-ups — I’ve got some times when I don’t have any joints in braces or slings, and when I can walk a mile or so without pain, and when I can dance and bike ride and do a bunch of other stuff, but I know that I wasn’t able to do that stuff a few weeks earlier and that in another few weeks I won’t be able to again. (During those periods, I tend to do a lot of storing-up stuff — I go bike riding or do aerobics as much as I can, because I know that exercise is good for me and I ought to get it in when I can, and walk to the nicer grocery store that’s further away and stock up on all the stuff that I can’t get at the smaller grocery stores near my apartment, and make a bunch of meals and freeze them so that, when I’m not feeling great, I’ll still be able to have homemade food.)

  34. Ruchama
    July 7, 2009 at 6:07 pm

    Anna: one of my ASL teachers (I took a few semesters of ASL at Gallaudet) was very insistent that “Sign” is not a language — ASL and BSL and all the other sign languages are languages, but “sign” isn’t. I don’t know how whether putting that much importance on that distinction is widespread in the Deaf community, though, or just among people like this teacher who specifically study ASL linguistics.

  35. anon
    July 7, 2009 at 6:13 pm

    The person was probably referring to Signed Exact English or something similar, and that’s correct, that’s not a language, that’s simply an encoding for English (like writing is also not a language, but an encoding representing the language). Signed Exact English is but one of the many ways in which hearing people have exerted power over deaf people, to the latter’s detriment. (Think of parallels such as denying the native language of a minority culture.)

  36. July 7, 2009 at 6:16 pm

    I was going for Sign in terms of the overall umbrealla-term – we use MSL here to an extend, which is an amalgamation of ASL, BSL, and some Mi’kmaq, and FSL was intstrumental in the formation of ASL and…

    But, I am not an Expert, so I defer to your teacher in this case. :)

    (ASL = Americal Sign Language, BSL = British Sign Language, MSL = Maritime Sign Languae, which is essentially a dead language at this point but relevant to my research, and FSL = French Sign Language.

  37. Jonquil
    July 7, 2009 at 6:17 pm

    Can I just settle for “lucky”?

  38. Ruchama
    July 7, 2009 at 6:19 pm

    I think the point that my teacher was trying to make with the distinction between “sign” and ASL (or other signed languages) was that referring to simply “sign” makes it seem like there’s one universal sign language. He told us a bunch of stuff about SEE, too, but that was a separate conversation.

    And like I said, I’m not sure if him being so insistent on that distinction was more from his perspective as a Deaf person or as an ASL linguist. (Pretty much every academic that I know has certain things within their field that just really grate on them when they hear them being used incorrectly, even if the incorrect usage is commonly used. I know there are certain things in my field that I get like that about.)

  39. July 7, 2009 at 6:27 pm

    Sorry, anon, I didn’t see your comment before I posted ind. I think I’ll just stick with “I am not an expert” and shut up. :)

  40. anon
    July 7, 2009 at 6:28 pm

    Ruchama — you’re right, that sounds like a fussy sort of linguistic point whereby I’m sure s/he’s completely correct but in popular usage, well :D

    However, I must say I always refer to ASL as ASL and people still think that sign language is “universal” *facepalm*

  41. Jadey
    July 7, 2009 at 6:33 pm

    Jonquil, “luck” and being “lucky” are tied up in all sorts of different cultural connotations and definitely do not mean the same thing to everyone. Plus this approach reinforces the notion that being currently disabled is necessarily worse than being currently abled, a contentious point which is being discussed at length in amandaw’s previous post here.

  42. anon
    July 7, 2009 at 6:39 pm

    Without getting into the question of terminology too deeply it seems to me one of the hugely complicating factors here is the extent to which certain abilities are ENABLED by the conventions adopted by society. So for example, the expectations that we can all sit still for 8 hours a day (in school or in work), that we use auditory means of communication, that we differentiate between roads and pedestrian walkways with raised curbs, even the width of doorways will all impact what we consider disabled or not disabled. This, I think, also gets at part of why we wind up discussing things like “not apparently disabled.”

    Not to keep injecting deafness into this, but a deaf person’s condition has aspects about it that are both very visible and very INvisible. If I’m walking away from you and you shout something at me & I don’t respond, am I being an asshole ignoring you or am I deaf? The primary assumption is the former (which is one of the reason deaf people are extremely wary of the police). On the other hand when I sit down and write back and forth to someone on a notepad, I am very VISIBLY disabled. So there’s a whole spectrum from always visible, to sometimes visible, to nearly always invisible…

    • July 7, 2009 at 6:55 pm

      anon, you aren’t “injecting”! It’s an important topic and it’s within the range of issues we’re looking at (seeing disability as a matter of societal access rather than individual condition — which, even tho you don’t identify as disabled, seems to apply similarly, right? check the previous thread that Jadey linked!) Don’t feel bad for discussing it. You’ve been bringing up some very good points.

  43. July 7, 2009 at 7:44 pm

    Amandaw, would you mind if I added a link to this post to one of my Dis101 posts? :-D

  44. July 7, 2009 at 7:46 pm

    the problem is, when we are speaking about disability issues, structural societal access problems, the system of privilege, and so forth — it is hard sometimes to really take those conversations to an advanced level without a way to refer to a category of people. In this case, people without disabilities. I think it is completely fair for us to discuss what term is the best description for that category, in a way that fits with our overall world-view and conception of disability issues. I think it is completely fair for us to discuss what term is the best description for that category, in a way that fits with our overall world-view and conception of disability issues.

    But who would the label encompass? Some people might not see themselves as disabled, but they still have a handicapped license plate or get a Social Security check. Is someone with bipolar disorder who is stabilized on medications disabled or not? Some disabilities aren’t noticeable, and the people who have them work through them. That doesn’t mean they have privilege. So because there are a bunch of different disabilities — some mental, some physical, some treatable, some permanent, etc. — I don’t think it’s possible to make a little name for all people with a disability or all people without a disability.

  45. ahimsa
    July 7, 2009 at 7:55 pm

    My biggest problem with the language is not what to call people who don’t have any disability. It is that the word disability covers such a broad range of people and it can mean completely different things. This is generally understood by people who do have a disability but completely unknown or ignored by people who don’t have a disability.

    For example, there are people who society considers disabled (using the social definition of the word, I guess) because they are in a wheelchair. And yet many of those people can work, exercise, and function in life quite well as long as the buildings, automobiles, etc. have the right modifications.

    Then there are other people with a serious illnesses who might look normal from the outside, and are able to walk or sit or drive for short periods, but who require long periods of rest, cannot work or exercise, need medications, and are frequently unable to function (mentally and physically) due to their symptoms. Folks with these medical conditions often can not perform the daily activities that most people take for granted. I’m in this category. On the one hand, looking normal can be helpful (I can “pass” for normal if I don’t want to discuss my illness). On the other hand it can also be a huge pain in the butt when trying to explain the seriousness of the condition.

    And I have not even addressed other categories of disability such as the various mental conditions that might be disabling in some way (mostly because I know very little about them).

    So, while the terms disabled and disability are definitely useful in many contexts I would like to have a way to distinguish the group of people who are disabled but can function well with assistive devices, medications and so on and those people who have disabilities that can’t be helped very much (that’s me – so far! I’m always hopeful for the right treatment or cure in the future).

    Unfortunately I have no suggestions for language that would meet this need (and maybe it’s only me who thinks this can be a confusing point when talking with people without disabilities) but I do think about it whenever I see the word disability used in a way that leaves out any of the subsets of disabled folks.

    And, just as others have mentioned, I do not understand those folks who claim that “Everyone has some kind of a disability. After all, I get hay fever every spring!”

    That is not the same thing that all. The word disability should be reserved for situations that are more severe than that. Hay fever is an inconvenience. I need reading glasses due to my age, for example, but I would never consider that a disability. I don’t want to get into comparisons over “who has it worse” but there has to be some reasonable level of impact before a problem can be defined as a disability.

    • July 7, 2009 at 8:08 pm

      ahimsa actually addressed a lot of what I was going to say in response to ThickRedGlasses. This is one more topic I hope to write about, but regardless: the disability movement addresses concerns for a broad range of people, not all of whom are functionally disabled (which can be in any aspect of life, note, not just work) or who might identify with the word “disabled.” Disability, remember, is not about your condition: it is about the barriers society puts in your way. Does society not put these sorts of barriers in the path of people with bipolar disorder too?

      That isn’t trying to force you to think of yourself as “disabled.” You have the right to identify however you feel fits you best. But I think it is an important point to make: the field of disability activism casts a broad net and covers many people who do not feel “disabled.”

      (ETA: the solutions we need are different based on our condition too. Some people can’t work and need disability checks. Some people are in wheelchairs and need accessible sidewalks and buildings. Some people can’t perform certain self care tasks and need assistance. Some people have a different neurological makeup and need the rest of us to stop being privileged assholes about it and learn to accommodate that. All these people *need* different things. “Disability” is not a narrow definition in any way.)

      I’ll also note, shortly, that the word “disabled” doesn’t fit those of us who are commonly called “disabled” either. I don’t like the term on a purely linguistic basis. “Ability” really isn’t the actual difference and not all of us lack ability in every area or every way. For more on that, see my previous thread (thoughts on disability and respectful language). IOW, you aren’t the only one. The people you call “disabled” on a more classic definition don’t always strictly identify with that term either. But it has come to be the word to describe the community of people who are restricted from full participation in society due to physical or mental differences. So we march on.

  46. Anonymous
    July 7, 2009 at 8:13 pm

    Just a general comment for both this thread and the others. (Delete if it’s derailing- but consider the content) It is great bringing up important issues, but I feel that it is really focused on people with privilege who have disabilities. (white middle class educated)

    As a minority doctor who works with mostly poor minority/immigrant patients, I can’t imagine most of them using the term currently non disabled. It sounds too academic for them. (This does not mean they are too stupid or uninformed about the societal constructs around them, so do NOT go there). I just think you should consider how people with minimal education or more diverse experiences refer to those who do not have disabilities. Or if you do not atleast understand there is a significant part of the discussion being missed.

    • July 7, 2009 at 8:16 pm

      Anonymous (c’mon people, pick a name – it’s ok!) – no deleting. It’s a relevant point. I hoped people would bring different experiences in this thread, but by this site’s nature it’s going to be heavily tilted toward middle class and white folk. And the internet in general is tilted toward those w/ class privilege. Thank you for pointing that out.

  47. Kate
    July 7, 2009 at 8:22 pm

    I’m hard of hearing (but generally describe myself as deaf) and have an increasingly complex relationship concerning not only the concept of “disability” (a term I always use with the qualification that I hate it), but also with the nature of communication as it relates to being deaf. While I sign (ASL) quite well, anyone who spends a signifcant amount of time with me learns that I am very good speaker, and if its a stranger they probably don’t even realize I’m deaf. But like Anon, I approach the nature of disability from the point of view of being deaf. I generally prefer the term “differently enabled”, something I think is in part influenced because I have family on teh autistic spectrum.

    Anna–I was quite surprised to learn that Mi’kmaq Sign Language, though I was previously aware of Quebecoise Sign Language, which I suspect is influential in the dialect of Sign Language spoken in Maine (where I live). As I understand it, ASL is derived from LSF (aka FSL), but is not at all related to BSL, because Laurent Saint-Clerc, the deaf man who essentially designed ASL, was deaf. I’ve never heard of MSL before. I also speak french alsmot as well as ASL, and that has had some influence both on the way I speak and the way I sign. I imagine it’s possible BSL influenced ASL later on in developement. [for the record, ASL was originally an ‘artificial’ language, but is now considered a living breathing language]

    Anon–by the time I was about ten I had become very good at training my teachers and classmates on how to communicate with me! I hate how “hearies” often assume that since I can communicate clearly to them, everything’s fine. I have a schoolmate who prefers SEE over ASL, but I generally use PSL (Pigeon Sign Language, a cross between ASL and SEE), because I was oral as a child. What’s interesting to me is how I know a lot of people who think it’s cool to be deaf/HOH, and say they sometimes they were deaf themselves. I wish to be neither.

    On the subject of “accomodations” I have two hearing aids, but only use one at a time. I do not like hearing aids, and spend as little time as possible wearing them. ASked once in psychology why I didn’t like them, I found it very difficult to articulate the reason. Wearing hearing aids feels almost like a mask, or heavy facial makeup–the “sound” is unnatural to me, because I do not hear those sounds on my own. It feels almost like an imposter; as if for a brief time I am aloowed to be “normal”, and found I had no wish to be so. Being deaf, and trying to communicate, for me it’s an extremely complicated set of feelings which I have to force myself to ignore everyday when I go into class. Being deaf and not having any outward sign due to my lipreading and speech skills is a very bizarre experience; because for all anyone can tell, I am hearing; but I am listening and hearing with my eyes. It’s as if hearing aids (or these days, cochclear implants) are an easy way out, to make the child “okay” again; almost like making a paraplegic able to walk in some sci fi TV show. But all it’s doing is making me seem one thing, when in fact I am something very different.

    I hope this makes sense. Sorry about the length.

  48. July 7, 2009 at 8:27 pm

    Two words I haven’t seen yet here: “normate” and “impairment.”

    I fault both “disablism” and “ablism” because they conflate the interaction of people and society with the attitudes of those in power. As anon @46 points out, many environments and assumptions disable people. I think the cause of that oppression is “normate bigotry”.

    Normate bigotry is a parallel worldview to sexism or other -isms: the expectation that humans come in a very narrow range: our brains all work the same, our bodies are all the same height & size, we all move the same, we are able to do the same things on our own.

    There is definitely non-disabled privilege as well as normate bigotry. Here’s an example from my experience as a wheelchair user. Non-disabled privilege is the assumption that one can go to any restaurant and get in without making prior arrangement. Normate bigotry motivates the restaurant staff who store chairs and plants in the “wasted space” that permits me to open doors and use the toilet.

    “Impairment” is a very handy term to use alongside “disability.” Impairment is what’s “wrong with me” or how I’m different or atypical. I’ve got cognitive, emotional, and physical impairments. When my medications are right, and I’m using my wheelchair, then the impact of those impairments are greatly minimized. Because I’m using a visible assistive technology, though, the normates think I’m disabled. (Thanks to the UK disability studies folks for this distinction.)

    Emandink @19, for example, describes zieself as CND at the same time as having a variable continuing chronic pain condition. In my book, if a person doesn’t know if they’ll be in terrible pain tomorrow, they’re impaired today as well. The prospect of pain, and its management, is most definitely an impairment. (An issue Emandink has explored in eloquent detail.)

    If we’re successful in building the better world we all hope for, perhaps the next generation will experience impairments as they age, and they won’t be disabled by them.

  49. Sarah
    July 7, 2009 at 8:39 pm

    We should keep in mind that many PWD dislike the language of “functioning” when applied to PWD. Cars might be described as “functioning” well or poorly–but the language is ill-suited for people Besides, differentiating “high-functioning” dis/ability from “low-functioning” is a rather messy, subjective process, including when it’s applied to ability-normative people. (My own preferred term.) Moreover, creating a category of “disabled people who can’t be helped very much” is quite problematic, and something of a self-fulfilling prophecy which causes so many PWD to be warehoused in institutions under the idea that “we can’t do anything for those people.” Often, it’s more along the lines of, “we won’t do anything for those people.” (Such as creating appropriate services and accommodations.”

    Several people have commented on the variation of experiences within the “disability” umbrella, but that doesn’t mean that the categorization of disability/ability-normative doesn’t hold some value when discussing social privilege and oppression. After all, there’s a great deal of variation in the experiences of being a woman, as well, and few people think that’s a good reason to decide that male privilege is an invalid concept. The same could be said for many other categories.

    While I realize that the issue of self-identification with the “disabled” term is a loaded term, I think internalized ableism is a factor in why some people choose not to identify with it. (As well as general confusion about what “disability” means, as this thread illustrates.) My grandmother refuses to apply for a disability parking sticker even though she would certainly qualify simply because she doesn’t want people to think she’s disabled. She doesn’t use a cane for the same reason. Apparently using my grandfather as a crutch–and making other imperfect accommodations for her mobility impairment–is preferable to being marked as “Disabled.” That’s ableism at work. We need to stop making disability out to be terrible and shameful. It’s part of life. Obviously there are degrees of impairment of PWD, but to my mind a lot of the parsing out of what does and does not qualify as a disability has a lot to do with deciding what kind of bodies and minds fall into the range of “normal/acceptable.”

    • July 7, 2009 at 8:43 pm

      Thanks, Sarah. Your second and third paragraph articulate gracefully what I was trying to get at.

      As for your first, thanks for the check. I did use “functional” as a shorthand above when I *KNOW* it is a loaded term particularly for the autistic spectrum community (among others). And the concept in general is simplistic and problematic.

  50. anon
    July 7, 2009 at 8:45 pm

    well i’ll see about picking some kind of handle *g*
    while i don’t consider myself disabled, i’m very aware that everyone else considers me as such, and that has impacted every aspect of my life from childhood to education, to relationships, to basic functioning in this society. And yet non of these barriers are inherent but due to how society segments off and treats deaf people.

    And yet, theoretically society could haave sign language as a very widespread well understood second language, we could have universally captioned broadcasts, captioned phones (see CapTel and WebTel for what I mean), an acceptance of text messaging equivalent to voice pohone and so on. Which would actually benefit many people besides us (for example people for whom english is a second language – they are actually the largest audience for captioned broadcasts). But we don’t. Rather, we enable a specific segment of society over another.

    And I’m sure for many disabilities you can construct similar scenarios (eg, wheel chair accessible structures).

    So it seems to me we are often referring to segments of population that are not merely “undisabled” — they are actually ENabled by the social constructs that are not merely neutral but support their particular conditions.

    • July 7, 2009 at 8:50 pm

      So it seems to me we are often referring to segments of population that are not merely “undisabled” — they are actually ENabled by the social constructs that are not merely neutral but support their particular conditions.

      I… have never seen it put like this. And OMG. Click moment. Yes. Exactly. Ex-fucking-zactly.

      It’s basically what we’ve been arguing (social model) but putting it like that just forms a whole new picture, you know?

  51. July 7, 2009 at 8:45 pm

    Kate, I can talk for hours on the subject of how MSL developed here, because I’m very boring that way. :) We went really heavy on the BSL because the only residential school for the deaf in this area that survived longer than five years only had principals from Scotland until it closed in the 1960s. It became a mesh of different things than ASL because of that. We didn’t have the Martha’s Vineyard Influence, for example.

    I wrote my honour’s history thesis on how the NS School for the Deaf and Dumb responded to both the Oralism vs Sign Language debate, and the OMG! Deaf Variety of Human Race thing back in the 1880s. We’re quite behind the U.S. in terms of our study of Deaf Education. Harlan Lane occasionally irritates me, but I wish that one of the few Deaf researchers up here would write something similar about Canada. We didn’t follow the same path, at least not in the Maritimes.

  52. Jadey
    July 7, 2009 at 9:06 pm

    Jesse the K, thank you for addressing “impairment”. I found myself using it the other day (in the context of differentiating between mobility impairment and sight impairment when discussing accessibility and the lack thereof in a specific location), but realized that I wasn’t sure where I was getting that usage from and if it was appropriate or not. I really like the distinction you have shared with us between the impairment a person has and how the social context influences the experience of that impairment, as well as your reminder about the difference between privilege and discrimination. The conversation is clearly complex enough without conflating concepts unnecessarily.

    Clearly (again), the importance of self-determination and self-identification for the people who do not have the privilege and are the targets of bigotry and discrimination cannot be over-stated. I think it is different when it comes to the descriptors for the people who *are* privileged on a particular axis and who are not the targets of the particular bigotry, as the initial post was discussing — I think the main concern there is to make sure that the “unmarked” category is not named in a way that exerts privilege over the “marked” category or perpetuates discrimination. But just as “cis” as the equivalent for “trans” has been attacked as somehow being derogatory or unfair towards cis people (I know, *seriously*, but yes, it has — check out Questioning Transphobia for some background), I’m sure the same kind of argument will be made about the terminology discussed here by people who don’t feel like having their non-disabled privilege pointed out.

    Also, re: abled vs. ENabled, reminds me of a comment I read once that the distinction isn’t between privileged vs. under-privileged but OVER-privileged vs. under-privileged, and that acknowleding one’s privilege involves acknowledging that one has been *over*-benefitted on a dimension, rather than being at some kind of “normal” or “average” midline, which goes back to some of what was discussed upthread about the problems of that kind of terminology.

    Tangential thought, but does anyone know if Feministe is accessible for people using screenreaders (JAWS, etc.)? I’m afraid I don’t have a lot of personal familiarity with these programs, but I’ve heard that websites can have screenreader-unfriendly formatting, and now I’m curious.

    Enough rambling — time to submit this sucker!

  53. karak
    July 7, 2009 at 9:21 pm

    I like “currently” more than “temporarily” because “temporarily” assumes about my life and future health. My existence now is not some amorphous in-between state anymore than someone’s existence in a wheelchair or on anti-psychotic drugs is some amorphous in-between state. It is how I am, and while that might change, and is likely to change, someone doesn’t have the right to drop a clever term to somehow make my ability to function mentally and physically without aid unnatural, unreal, or unusual, just as someone who does need an aid to function is not unnatural, unreal, or unusual.

    I have needed aids in the past, and will, I know, need them in the future (I’ve been diagnosed with a progressive physical illness, and it is going to get me someday). I think it makes me angry when I feel like someone is diminishing the place I exist in now, when I worked so hard and went through so much to achieve it– “well, you know, this is all temporary, and not likely to last, so what a lovely waste of time and agony you’ve put yourself through!”

  54. shah8
    July 7, 2009 at 10:48 pm

    I strongly prefer the term normatives. Ability is extremely context laden, and normatives is a purposely ambiguous term that simply functions as a direction forces people who think or discuss issues relating to disability to firmly place everything in the proper and individual context.

    Think in terms like this:

    A Chinese lady from a certain time back is functionally disabled, but her society strongly prefers her to be this way and actively imposes a structure that supports that disability. Remember the focus is on alleviating disparate access.

    An English lady from a certain time back is also functionally disabled, for the same reasons as the Chinese lady above, but much of this is invisible–since one way or another, the brain isn’t really getting enough oxygen. This also tends to make the use of normals, able-bodied, neurotypical, and whatever variant of temporal difficult.

    A married woman who can become pregnant is an interesting idea in this discussion, because her potential disability makes her an attractive hire for some businesses (because she can be underpaid), and an unattractive hire for other businesses (because she “can’t be counted on). Now, pregnancy is not a disability in the grand sense of the term, but it’s one of the major life vulnerabilities that many people goes through. It can form the base sample of the idea of temporarily/currently abled. However, pregancy illustrates, in a way that colds or migranes can’t, how inflexible the various versions of ability really are. Are you really abled because your children can be made weapons against you? Are you disabled because you are barren? Ability/neurotypical/other really falls down if one has to use the term to judge how useful you are to yourself vs how useful you are to someone else/society.

    I think amandaw is kinda wanting to have her pie and eat it. There just isn’t a way to label a group usefully in a discussion based on individuals interacting with multiple subgroups. A neologism is really necessary here, and it would almost certainly have to be usefully vague.

    Kate@55 makes me really wish I could see profiles. She makes me really want to compare notes on our experiences since we seem to be fairly alike (tho’ I don’t do any sign).

  55. FashionablyEvil
    July 8, 2009 at 12:10 am

    while i don’t consider myself disabled, i’m very aware that everyone else considers me as such

    I am always puzzled by how much people project onto people that they perceive as having disabilities. I once mentioned to a group of people that I effectively can’t hear out of my left ear. It’s vaguely problematic at times (e.g, I have a hard time finding my cell phone when it rings or figuring out where a fire truck is coming from and I have difficulty hearing conversation over background noise), but generally, it doesn’t cause any problems that I can’t overcome. And yet the comments I got were “Oh my god, how do you cope with that???”

  56. ielisa
    July 8, 2009 at 12:20 am

    Maybe there’s a way to indicate disabled/currently able is a continuum rather than discrete categories? I know this doesn’t work for laws, but it seems to apply in life. I worry that juxtaposing disabled with the term currently able almost sets up a functioning vs. disabled dynamic (or at least it could in everyday use by people who aren’t disability rights activists).

    To explain where I’m coming from, for me to identify as disabled would be appropriation. It is the wrong word and not the identity I experience. I have migraines, asthma, and agony during the first two days of my period if not properly medicated. But other than the migraines, medicine can prevent/stop my issues very well. During a strong migraine, I cannot function. At worst, the pain is almost unbearable and affects my mood and ability to do tasks or even think/recall things. Since I can (mostly) manage my migraines and they don’t alter the overall quality of my life, I wouldn’t call them disabling. But… without treatment/pills they would be and if I didn’t have a understanding boss I could be fired for having a migraine at an inopportune time. A very close friend of mine with club feet would never identify as disabled, but having club feet significantly impacts my friend’s life and identity. My friend has suggested something along the lines of precariously able to describe the situation.

    To me at least, the issue is about how society doesn’t accommodate the diversity, messiness, and frailty of human bodies not about categories of people.

    I’m not sure how we make the words to say this.

  57. Anonymous
    July 8, 2009 at 12:41 am

    Grr.. not really on point, but the reason some of us use Anonymous, is because our names are so freaking unusual that we are the only person in the US with those names. So every internet comment we make is easily brought up in a google search of our names. I guess I could use a random phrase like Ilovecats or pandas, which is funny cause I really dislike animals. I’ll consider it for future use.

    Anyways, cause you were so excepting on different view points thought I would share. I think when you take away class/white privilege your post on vicoden might have a different slant. But that’s a different thread. As far as this one goes, I was once told when I expressed sympathy for a sickler in chronic pain, “Doc you’re just unchallenged.” While I’m sure that there are a lot of different opinions on that phrase, I took it to mean that I didn’t have to face the challenges of dealing with a world that was set up for other people. Not going to provide as unified a response, but definitely spoke to that one person.

  58. ahimsa
    July 8, 2009 at 1:16 am

    at comment #57 Sarah wrote:
    … creating a category of “disabled people who can’t be helped very much” is quite problematic, and something of a self-fulfilling prophecy which causes so many PWD to be warehoused in institutions under the idea that “we can’t do anything for those people.”

    I see your point but that’s not at all what I meant. I mentioned such a category because I am one of those “disabled people who can’t be helped very much” by any drugs or assistive devices or whatever. I suggested such a category not because I don’t want help. I would love a treatment/cure/miracle or whatever you’ve got to offer. (wry grin)

    One of my concerns is to fight against the assumption that everyone who has a disability can be “accommodated” or “made to function” or whatever terminology you want to use. I think it’s partly my reaction against the “super crip” stereotype. I’m also fighting against the idea that “everyone has to be productive in order to be worthwhile” that has been ingrained in me by society. I try to convince myself that I’m still “a good person” even though I can’t do much of anything but it’s a constant struggle.

    In the end it is counterproductive to wish for something that is not possible. I have to accept that my body just doesn’t work–impaired may be a better term, I don’t know–the exact words are not as important to me as actually being free from the impairment/medical condition. So it’s a balance between working with doctors, hoping for a better treatment/cure one day, and accepting that this is where I’m at today.

    So, that’s where I was coming from. Some people seem to think that anyone with a disability can overcome it if only they would try hard enough. Some people seem to think that with enough medicine or technology then any disability can be fixed or overcome. If only that were true. Not everything in life can be controlled.

    Anyway, I hope that explains my comment about disabled folks who can’t be helped very much. It’s a reaction against a “blame the victim” mentality that says I’m just not trying hard enough.

  59. Josh
    July 8, 2009 at 1:27 am

    Let me second Jesse on “normate”: it’s what my wife, a PWD, has always called “the non-disabled.” And DS/gay studies scholar Robert McRuer has an essay proposing a tv series to be called “Crip Eye for the Normate Guy” (“Sweetheart, your house is an accessibility nightmare!”).

  60. southpaw
    July 8, 2009 at 2:07 am

    With respect, I’d question whether sticking with the word “disabled” is the way to go, given that word’s other uses in English it seems impossible to escape a connotation that’s somewhat pejorative.

    Assuming for the moment that we’re sticking with “disabled” and that it carries no inadvertent negative connotation, I think “non-disabled” is the clear answer. The reason I think this is because the situation is actually asymmetric. Group membership implies a lot; nonmembership implies very little. If I tell you that person A is Brazilian and belongs to a college fraternity, you have the cognizable amount of positive information about person A. If I then tell you that person B is not Brazilian and does not belong to a college fraternity, you still know next to nothing about person B. I’d argue the same is true with “disabilities.” If you tell me a person is autistic, I know a cognizable amount of positive information about that person. Telling me a person is not autistic does not give me much information at all, and certainly doesn’t allow me make much of an evaluation about their privilege (that such a person is not “disabled” provides some more information, but I would submit still far less than specific positive information). Sorry if that’s clear as mud.

  61. Borea
    July 8, 2009 at 3:02 am

    “and I have had so many people write me expressing that they feel their non-physical conditions didn’t “count” as disability, and it just makes my heart cry.”

    Apologies, amandaw, but what does this mean exactly? I’m confused, most by “and it just makes my heart cry.” Could you elaborate please?

    I won’t comment further on the debate, seeing as how I am “TND.”

  62. July 8, 2009 at 7:31 am

    Borea, I can’t speak for Amandaw, but one that that comes in with the “disability” label is the “expectation of reasonable accommodations”.

    So, for example, if you have migraine headaches that are exacerbated by screen glare and florescent lights, and say “I have a disability”, your employer is expected to “reasonably accommodate” that by replacing the lights in your work area with something less florescent, and to put a screen glare thing on your computer screen.

    Or, if you have that ubiquitous “bum knee”, and identify as having a disability, your employer is expected to reasonably accommodate this by providing a chair for you to sit in if you’re working a job that requires you to stand, such as working behind a register.

    When I worked for a medical office that wrote up health plans for a large employer in the UK, they would include disability-related reasonable accommodations like “higher than average sick days”, “more frequent toilet breaks”, having an ergonomics test for the work station on a regular basis, replacement of lights, special chairs brought in, more flexible work schedules, accommodation of a part-time schedule, etc.

    Even stuff like “peanut-free rooms” and “fragrance-free workplaces” come under this umbrella of disability-related accommodations. I’m sure that many people who have severe peanut allergies do not consider themselves to have a disability, but the same notions that support the disability rights movement – banding together to demand these accommodations – were used to push for peanut-free classrooms and lunch rooms.

    Of course, as Anonymous has pointed out, these things are impacted by race, and also by class, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, and other things. We haven’t gotten into those things here yet, which is unfortunate, because the issues of how disability impacts people across the spectrum of oppression tends to get scant attention in general. People with disabilities are disproportionately poor and on the streets. The assumption that so many people make that the person who’s panhandling in a wheelchair or with crutches is “faking” ignores how difficult it is to navigate the aid system that requires you to continually prove how pathetic you are. Just for one example, amongst many.

  63. Tabor
    July 8, 2009 at 8:26 am

    I particularly like the term temporarily-able-bodied because it is so true. No one in born able-bodied, and most people don’t die able bodied. I first read the term in Asphalt Nation by Jane Holtz Kay where she talks about how babies can’t drive and neither can many of the elderly, so why do we have such a car dependent society?

  64. Borea
    July 8, 2009 at 8:43 am

    Thanks a lot for the long response, Anna! I can understand how people might think their own conditions -migraines, allergies, etc.- aren’t as “serious” as, say, being a paraplegic… and thus never seek needed assistance or accommodation.

    I’m on the right track, yes?

  65. July 8, 2009 at 8:47 am

    I have a similar ‘click’ reaction to Amanda regarding the enabled vs. abled – I think my vote has to go to “currently enabled” now.

    To ahimsa: One of my concerns is to fight against the assumption that everyone who has a disability can be “accommodated” or “made to function” or whatever terminology you want to use. I think it’s partly my reaction against the “super crip” stereotype. I’m also fighting against the idea that “everyone has to be productive in order to be worthwhile” that has been ingrained in me by society.

    I really agree with this. In fact, I’ve just realised that this is something that worries me when we focus on accommodations when talking about disability – not to in any way lessen the importance of accommodations when these are possible, but I feel as if people often forget the “when these are possible” and marginalise people where there is currently no straightforward solution and possibly no solution at all that will make them a “productive member of society” (blech).

    I suppose that rather than dividing PWD into two classes (and let’s not forget that I’m sure most PWD have aspects of their disability that can be accommodated and aspects that can’t), I think it would be best to try and widen people’s understanding of disability as including both – which also opens the door to attacking people’s assumptions about work, independence and the like that are such problems.

    Borea, I also can’t speak for Amanda, but I know it’s a severe problem that people with invisible disabilities, and non-physical disabilities in particular, are made to feel like lazy, whining malingerers, or dismissed as being crazy, or things like that. The “standard image” of a PWD in our society is that of a deaf person, a blind person, a person in a wheelchair – people tend not to realise that mental conditions (depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, PTSD and the like, also autistic spectrum conditions and so on) and other invisible disabilities (for instance chronic pain and fatigue conditions) also fall under the disability umbrella. This also ties into what I said about there not being any straightforward accommodations – e.g. people tend to think that when you simply can’t do something a lot of the time attempts at accommodation be damned, and especially when you can offer no visible “proof”, that must be laziness, a character flaw, certainly not a real disability. And when you’ve grown up hearing no alternative to this, internalisation happens. It is and has been /extremely/ difficult for me to think about my difficulties with managing basic aspects of life as a disability rather than laziness, and I’m not sure I’ll ever get into the stage where I don’t have a little voice whispering in the back of my mind that I’m just not trying hard enough, I just need more self-discipline, how dare I try to not blame this stuff on myself…

    When engaging in discussions about disability, that little voice changes its tune to – how dare I claim to be disabled, how dare I draw attention from the /real/ PWD, the ones with physical, *visible* disabilities. The term “able-bodied” does not help.

    • July 8, 2009 at 9:00 am

      When engaging in discussions about disability, that little voice changes its tune to – how dare I claim to be disabled, how dare I draw attention from the /real/ PWD, the ones with physical, *visible* disabilities. The term “able-bodied” does not help.


      I have people comment or email me when I write about disability from the perspective of someone with an invisible physical condition, agreeing with certain things or commenting that they found this or that idea useful, but then qualifying their statements with “but I just have [mental health condition]” or the like — clearly communicating that they feel like mental conditions do not “count” as disability, despite that they obviously identify with the disability identity in most every other way.

      That’s why I hate the term “able-bodied.” It is in such wide use that it really seems to close in the definition of disability, which is not what we should be doing – again – the disability umbrella is very wide, and covers people of all sorts, with all sorts of different needs, not all of which are a simplistic “not able to perform most tasks” sort of thing.

      Even with my chronic pain, at work, what I need is often not a different job or to be excused from certain tasks — I can perform them — but a flexibility in terms of absence as I balance my energies. I *can* perform the tasks that the abled person next to me is performing, it’s just that sometimes if I keep doing what I ostensibly “can” do I’m going to deplete my energy reserves and end up crashing. That isn’t what most people think of when they think “physical disability.” In fact, it’s much more akin to the accommodations a person with some sort of mental condition might need than the accommodations someone with more “classic” physical disabilities might need.

      So yes – we have to expand our understanding of disability – not force people to identify in a way they are uncomfortable identifying, but make sure they know they are welcome in our movement in whatever form they feel comfortable, that our movement has a lot to offer them even if they don’t identify as a disabled person or person with a disability.

  66. Nan
    July 8, 2009 at 9:45 am

    “Typical” is what I use most often, although it is frequently received as a pejorative term. The ones who seem particularly offended by the usage are those that pride themselves in attaining “normality”. It isn’t intended to be negative in any manner but rather to set up a socially expected norm equally “atypical” as any situation bodily or mindfully other. Coming from an Aspie perspective I tend to think of everything on a spectrum with an emphasis in diversity of individual variation.

    Since starting on a quest to use language carefully I have noticed those around me fall into a counter usage of language, specifically choosing their language to reflect mine as deviant and “non-standard”. They often justify their usage of disabling terms by rationalizing the fact that it is valid within the Medical community.

  67. Kate
    July 8, 2009 at 1:58 pm

    The term “Neurologically Typical” is rather amusing to me because it is often shortened to NT–as in Windows NT.

  68. regulararmyfool
    July 8, 2009 at 2:01 pm

    I simply call them “specials.” Never had anyone call me on it and have noticed that quite a few people have adopted it.

    I judge a country by how they treat the young, the old and the specials. The USA is a pile of shit by this criteria.

  69. Broce
    July 8, 2009 at 3:38 pm

    I havent read all the responses, but here’s my take for what it’s worth. I have a bad knee, a bad back, asthma, arthritis, osteoporosis and multiple sclerosis.

    I do not expect people who are not disabled to have any special connotation like “currently abled or “temporarily abled.” They are not disabled. I am – some days more than others, and probably increasingly so over the coming years. I dont feel like my condition requires special language about others. Able bodied, or not disabled is fine with me. In fact things like “currently abled” make me feel a bit…..uncomfortable, and self conscious. It seems like they draw even more focus on my disabilities.

  70. Ursula L
    July 8, 2009 at 4:32 pm

    One issue is that this seems to take disabled/not-disabled (however you choose the term) as a dichotomy. In my experience, it is more of a continuum.

    I spent quite a few years working in group homes for developmentally disabled adults. The residents in different homes had very different levels of disability, and need. Some homes required staffing of up to 6 staff for 9 residents during waking hours, others required perhaps one person to staff an apartment building where residents lived mostly-independently but could ask for help as needed.

    There was more difference between ability levels in these two extremes of homes than I’d say there was between the latter type of assistive apartment and someone who could live fully independently.

    Yet both would get labeled “disabled” (or a similar term) versus “currently not-disabled” (or a similar term.)

    Making it an either/or seems to make it easier to ignore the significance of steps on the continuum – the fact that it can make a huge difference in someone’s life if they’re in the wrong setting, or that not providing one type of support may well lead to other problems. E.g., a friend of mine with CP does best getting physical therapy several times a week to help her maintain her current level of mobility, but has trouble getting it paid for because insurance sees physical therapy as something that should increase, rather than help maintain, one’s physical abilities.

    A dichotomy also serves to obscure situations where there are sometimes very different issues of concern – for example, issues of consent to treatment are different for someone with physical but not developmental disabilities who can clearly communicate “yes” or “no”, versus someone with developmental disabilities of the sort where they can not communicate “yes” or “no”. One set of rules to address both types of situations will serve neither well.

  71. July 8, 2009 at 4:44 pm

    enabled v disabled reminds me of the best twist I’ve encountered. Lucy Gwin, editor of the remarkable MOUTH magazine, claims it won her “best name for us” contest
    The Dislabeled
    the name for the rest of us, then, would be
    The Unlabeled

  72. anon
    July 8, 2009 at 4:47 pm

    it’s a severe problem that people with invisible disabilities, and non-physical disabilities in particular, are made to feel like lazy, whining malingerers, or dismissed as being crazy, or things like that. The “standard image” of a PWD in our society is that of a deaf person, a blind person, a person in a wheelchair

    I am not *at all* dismissing the particular issues people with invisible conditions regularly undergo — I’ve seen a lot of that. But believe me, some of my biggest issues revolved around the rhetoric aimed at me: IF YOU WORKED HARDER YOU COULD LIPREAD AND TALK JUST AS WELL AS US BUT YOU”RE TOO LAZY. Shit, that was so internalized, *I’d* beat myself over the head when I misunderstood people. It was never anyone else’s fault but mine when there were communication breakdowns. Always. I’ve only just started unpacking that and saying, uh, no. You *can’t* actually practice at “hearing” and get better at it. And I’m in my 40’s.

    So you don’t get to escape from charges of laziness, etc, just because you have a “classic” profile…

  73. Ruchama
    July 8, 2009 at 6:50 pm

    Thinking about the DISabled and ENabled comment above, and specifically about phones — we can kind of break down communication into two forms, face-to-face and long-distance. Before the phone was invented, long-distance communication was generally letters, and then later telegrams. Both of those relied on sight but not hearing. So a deaf person and a hearing person could communicate long-distance without any more problems than two deaf people or two hearing people would have, as long as they used the same written language. But those methods of communication were closed to blind people unless they either had assistance or, after Braille and similar systems were developed, they were communicating some somebody who had the equipment to put the letter in a form they could read.

    But then, with the telephone, that switched — blind people could use it with very little trouble, but deaf people had a lot of trouble.

    After thinking about various forms of communication in this way for a while, I realized that I couldn’t think of a single form of communication, either face-to-face or long-distance, that everybody could use. Blind people can use voice phones but deaf people can’t. (Well, generally speaking.) Deaf people can use text messaging, but blind people can’t without a voice synthesizer or something like that. People with motor control problems or nerve damage in their fingers probably can’t read Braille or use a sign language.

    So as different forms of communication become popular, people with different disabilities and abilities become more or less privileged with respect to communication. And it seems like we’re shifting again toward more of an emphasis on text communication — I IM and email most of my friends much more often than I call them, and I’ve seen a lot of my students use text messaging in situation where I would have used the phone, like setting up a time to meet with someone. And with all the various sorts of adaptive electronics available, things like email are accessible to way more people than any previous form of communication that I can think of. Of course, all that is dependent on sometimes very expensive technology, so it also creates a bigger economic divide than anything that’s been common in the past 200 years or so that I can think of.

  74. mbh
    July 8, 2009 at 8:19 pm

    I’m cognitively and physically disabled, both legally and functionally. I identify as disabled. I stumbled across this post and am a little confused whether it’s open to visitors or if, as suggested by the response in #54 to #53, it’s primarily an academic discussion, by and for a self-referencing community. I’ll apologize in advance if it’s the latter.

    Two of the tenets I have taken from feminism and gay rights are (1) the more narrowly you are defined by the so-called mainstream, the harder the fight and (2) stereotypes come from the most vocal or visible parts of any group.

    One of the reasons I think there has been so much recent traction with the gay rights movement is that it has become inclusive. I dislike the term “queer” but think it’s brilliant marketing. If “queer” is functionally defined as “not straight”, the “straight” stereotype becomes the focus and anyone who does not identify within that very narrow stereotypical norm is welcome to identify as queer (or with queers).

    I identify as a feminist and think feminists have not shared the same success because they haven’t been able to flip the stereotype. In the 70s/early 80s being a feminist popularly became equated with being a ball-busting bitch. It seems like not enough women came out as feminists to break that stereotype. Now, even when people (men and women) share the politics of feminism, they resist the label.

    With respect to disabilities, I’d like to see language that flips the stereotype. Something that’s inclusive and expansive, along the lines of “differently abled”. Whatever the language, I don’t see how it can be meaningful unless people come out and identify with the term. In my experience, that’s the only way to truly break a stereotype and why I don’t get agitated around the term “disabled”.

    Last year I had a visit with the 18 y.o. son of a friend. For most of his life I’ve been disabled. He knows that I’m not reliable–I can’t say, “Yes, I’ll go to the movies with you next Tuesday” because I’m not able to commit that far in advance. If we do go to the movies, he knows he may need to assist me in any of several capacities. From his perspective my disabilities were just part of who I was, and an often inconvenient part at that.

    With this last visit, he was really trying to understand what it was like for me to have disabilities. I let him ask me anything, including the borderline stupid/insulting questions that get tiresome to answer over and over. Once he had the information he wanted, he sat back, thought for a solid minute, then said, “So it’s like there’s a shitstorm in your body that’s totally beyond your control…it’s there every single day?” I nodded. “So when I [do X or Y or Z to accommodate your disabilities] it’s like I’m holding up an umbrella to keep some of the shit off you…and there’s no guarantee that will help?” I nodded again.

    Since then, every few chats he’ll ask me how my shitstorm is going or if I need any help with umbrellas. He had never brought up my disabilities in any context before. His Mom told me on a couple of occasions she overheard him ordering his younger siblings not to whine about accommodating me because “in her body it’s like it’s always raining and she doesn’t have any umbrellas. When we do these things, it’s like we use the sun in our bodies to make an umbrella for her” and “she always has to live with bad weather in her body…can you imagine how different your life would be if you couldn’t make your body do whatever you wanted whenever you want it?”

    Right up front I’ll concede all the flaws in this anecdote and metaphor. My point is, this kid learned more by translating it into language that was meaningful to him and then was able to pass it on to others. I don’t care that he thinks of my disabilities as “shitstorms”. To me, language is a tool for understanding, not vice versa. By thinking of himself as non-shitstormed, he began the process of acknowledging his privilege and moving beyond stereotypes to see the complexity inherent within disabilities. It’s got him thinking and asking rather than assuming and ignoring or dismissing.

    Words are important. Precision of meaning is important. But there comes a point at which linguistic complexity becomes alienating. (I’ve always thought that over-complexity was the impetus behind the backlash against Political Correctness a.k.a. basic verbal courtesy toward someone who wasn’t just like you.) I think it’s a mistake to casually dismiss the need for terms to be comprehensible and relatable by a broad cross-section of the population.

  75. anon
    July 9, 2009 at 1:37 am

    I was thinking about why it is I dislike the term “impairment” and also “loss” (eg hearing impairment, hearing loss). From my point of view, I have never lost anything, nor has my hearing ever been impaired, because I was born this way. I’m aware of hearing, to be sure (not like I’ve ever been allowed to forget), but I have never experienced it as a *loss* or *impairment*. If I had been born hearing and became deaf later, I think I’d see that differently than I do. So terminology also gets jumbled this way b/c different people will have perfectly legitimate different perspectives on these things…

  76. katrina
    July 10, 2009 at 8:03 am

    “Temporarily non-disabled” and “currently non-disabled” are pretty long and clunky if you’re trying to find a convenient handle for use in a complex discussion of the issues. Of course, you can reduce it to an acronym, but then it’s only intelligible to the initiated.

    “Disabled” is a difficult starting point, being a word with a prefix added. I’ve been thinking about this overnight and wondering when everyone stopped using “handicapped” in English. To me it seems more descriptive and less dismissive than “disabled”. It doesn’t have other, harsher meanings the way “disabled” does when applied to machines. And handicaps can come and go.

    Did “handicapped” go the way of “oriental”, “black”, “negro” “retarded” and “spastic”? They were all technically correct, but came to be insults. Is that why people are suggesting such long descriptions? “Retarded” is now “developmentally delayed”, and you sure don’t hear kids yelling that at each other in the playground.

  77. Ursula L
    July 10, 2009 at 2:41 pm

    Did “handicapped” go the way of “oriental”, “black”, “negro” “retarded” and “spastic”? They were all technically correct, but came to be insults.

    Pretty much, yes.

    I did a paper for a college class on the history of disease, at one point, where I tracked laws relating to the mentally ill and developmentally disabled, in England. Went all the way back to the 1500s. And you saw much of the same issue, with older/known terms becoming perjorative as the general public became comfortable with them, and the people who cared about the issue developing newer terms that would not be perjorative. Both “moron” and “idiot” were new non-insulting alternative terms, at one point.

    Playing with terms helps in the short term, and in particular it helps the people who are actually involved in the cause keep it at the front of their mind that the people they care about are people and not to be insulted.

    It’s less effective at changing the way the public thinks, to just play with the words, as the tendancy is to just equate the new term with the old now-insulting term.

    What seems to have done the most good in recent times are laws requiring that public schools educated the disabled, and that this education include as much participation in the regular classroom as is possible. And other laws, requiring employers to make reasonable accomidations for employment, and that people who need physical assistance with daily life tasks be able to get that help coming into their own home, rather than having to go live in an institution.

    • July 10, 2009 at 3:15 pm

      This may be affected by my youth, but to me, “handicapped” is just not a word I identify with. I only ever hear it used in reference to accessible parking spaces anymore; the occasional person uses it in reference to a person. I’ve not heard it used as a slur, exactly… it’s just mildly uncomfortable. I don’t know how else to explain it.

      There is considerable diversity in how disabled people choose to refer to themselves; interacting with particularly low-income folk I tend to hear “handicap” a bit more. I never hear differently-abled, or anything-challenged (I’ve only ever heard that used as a sly way to insult without directly insulting) and so forth. The simpler the term the more people seem to accept it as an identity.

      That said, when trying to find terminology for the non-marked/dominant group, there isn’t as much of a concern whether there is a strong sense of identity with that term by those people. (That isn’t to say there’s *no* concern. It’s just not primary.) I think it is a slightly different conversation.

      Also, I get the sense that disabled folk identify a lot more with a term when other people use it in a neutral-or-positive, affirmative sense — rather than a patronizing sense. And we can almost always tell the difference.

  78. shah8
    July 10, 2009 at 3:35 pm

    Given why people desire to be pratronizing, I doubt we’d ever see a widely used term that is at least neutral.

  79. July 12, 2009 at 9:05 pm

    Reading this list of possible terms, I find it very hard to figure out where I fit in. I’m sure there are plenty of other people out there who are wondering just when and how they classify as disabled or not…

  80. Mykell
    August 31, 2009 at 11:42 am

    “Temporarily non-disabled” is a mouthful that will never catch on. “TND” will just confuse the heck out of people and will never catch on.

    I think “abled” is the best of the options you’ve laid out. It doesn’t imply that any way to be is better or worse than another. It doesn’t make any form of ability or disability invisible. It’s short.

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