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?
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.
- Disability Is…? by amandaw July 13, 2009
- Thoughts on disability and respectful language by amandaw July 2, 2009
- An email by Miranda July 8, 2009
- Disability Terminology: A Starter Kit for Nondisabled People and the Media by s.e. smith June 18, 2010
- Things That Make My Life Easier, A Reintroduction (Part 2 of 3) by amandaw August 21, 2010