An overheard comment the other week set me thinking about labels and person centred language, particularly with regard to disability. Two of the phrases that often get discussed are ‘disabled person’ and ‘person with a disability’. The latter is often said to be preferable as it puts the person first.
Then I started thinking a little deeper and thought what does disability mean in each phrase. The view I reached is entirely subjective, I’ve not discussed it with anyone and after all it’s just an idea in a collections of some bloke’s wafflings on the interwebs so I’m not claiming to be starting a movement or saying that this is the way people should be referred to.
Disability or the state of being disabled can be looked at a couple of ways. There’s the Medical Model approach, where disability is the thing that’s ‘wrong’ with a person that needs to be fixed or overcome by adapting the individual to fit society. The other way is that the individual is disabled by barriers that exist to their full participation in a society. This is the Social Model and separates out disability from the impairment that the person has.
‘Person with a disability’ does seem to fit the medical model in that it’s talking about a person with a ‘thing’ rather than a state of being. This is still better than the old medical model labels of ‘cripple’, ‘spastic’, etc.
With a social model hat on, ‘disabled person’ seems a much better fit. I’m a person in society and I’m disabled by the barriers it places in my way therefore I’m a disabled person. I’d also say following this way of thinking that I’m a person with an impairment.
This, in a nutshell, sums up why I prefer the term ‘disabled person’ as it’s a reminder that I am disabled by the society I live in rather than something inherent to me.