Re-Defining Disability

Often I am asked how I explain my disability or what is it like to have a disability. It's times like those that I wish I could just utter the definition of what disability means and be done with it. But I know rambling off some definition I got from some other source would be an insult to myself and others; besides, I also know it would be too limited in scope, too simple. That's what I'll attempt to do here, define 'disability' on my own terms.

Since I live with a disability I've never looked up what it means in a dictionary. I already know what it means because I live with it, it's a part of my life. However, before I go reinventing the wheel it's important to know what already exists out there. So when I turned to for a definition of disability (for the first time in my life) I found myself taking a few deep breaths as I read what it said. My immediate thought after reading the definition was what a superficial definition!! The word has a thousand more forms than just being a noun, plural and singular. And it is certainly much more than just the 'inability to do..', 'the condition of being unable to..' or 'an incapacity...' But it wasn't until I got to the part where it said Antonyms: 1. ability, capacity that I began to get angry, furious even at the blatant inaccuracies in word choice. Reading the antonyms made me angry because it seemed to insult my entire existence, my entire life, and the person that I am growing to be.
The way we define our words is a direct reflection of our society. Disability, like the terms race and and culture, is a socially constructed concept. How does society view disability? How is it treated? What is being done about it? The answers to these questions and others shapes how disability is defined. For the most part the society that I live in treats disability as a social obscurity and medical anomaly; it is seen as something that society seeks to provide aide for, or to benefit. Examples of this: This is an event to benefit kids with disabilities.. The school has Special Ed. classes for students with a learning disability.. or That's an organization that provides various services for those with a disability.. Needless to say, by and large, someone with a disability is usually equated with being the recipient of services - medical, social, government, or otherwise. After I thought about it, I realized no wonder why antonyms for the word 'disability' are: ability and capacity. 

But just because it's written that way doesn't make it right.

So I propose a mental shift. And not just in the way that we think of people with a disability. In order for a social mind shift to happen the change in perspective needs to affect everyone, but especially those in the majority of the population. In my two decades of living with a disability, I can boil its meaning down to one word: challenge. A disability means that I have something that challenges myself, and it challenges everyone that I come across in some way small or large. Instead of seeing myself as the recipient of help, services, aide, charity, etc. I see myself as offering an opportunity to challenge others and to continually be challenged myself. With that said, here is my personal working definition of disability -- something that I am sure will change as I learn more about myself..


1. a challenge a person may have been born with, or may have come by through an injury or accident, or other trauma 2. a state of being that is outside the norm, exceptional 3. an opportunity that welcomes challenges to expectations and standards 

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