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Disability Self-Identification

Posted on February 9, 2018

When it comes to labelling people with disabilities there are two main trains of thought. Some people believe that in order to reduce stigma, the person should be put first. For example, saying ‘person with a disability’ as opposed to ‘a disabled person’. The idea behind this is to reduce the stigma placed upon the person by ensuring that they are referred to as people first. A study done by Paula T. Fernandes, Nelson F. de Barros, and Li M. Li that was published shows how damaging identification can be for people with epilepsy. In the study, two surveys were distributed. The only difference between the two was the phrasing, in one it asked questions about “epileptics” while in the other, the questions were asked about “people with epilepsy.” In the survey with the term “epileptics” the questions revealed a bias against people with epilepsy that was not seen when the phrase “people with epilepsy” was used. This is important as people with disabilities are really just trying to live their lives, they don’t need backlash from phrasing that can be damaging to how they are perceived.

While many agree with this idea of putting the person first when identifying them, others do not. Some disabled people use their disabilities as a large part of their self identification and don’t want to change how they refer to themselves. This is particularly common for autistic people or for those in the Deaf community. Emily Ladau argues that some disabled people prefer to be called just that. The way someone chooses to self-identify is something very important to them, when people with disabilities choose how they want to be referred to it is something very personal and important. When other people try to force other terminology upon them because they don’t feel comfortable it is offensive. The person with the disability gets to choose how they want to be referred to, when people don’t pay attention to this in a misguided attempt to do the right thing they are being rude by not listening to the person they are talking to.

In the end, identification of disability is a tricky situation. The best thing an able bodied person can do is listen to what the disabled person wants and follow it. They are people just like everyone else, after all.

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Mairin Kelly

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