Listen to this post: 

“PWD” is shorthand for “person with a disability.” I saw it a lot when I was studying to become a speech therapist. Abbreviations do make for easier reading. I thought that was a cute term until I became a PWD. Then, it felt objectifying to be an acronym written about in a journal by people who don’t share that label. How can a very diverse set of people all go by the same little label?

There’s debate over whether we ought to call ourselves people with disabilities, disabled people, crips, krips, gimps, differently-abled, handicapped, handicapable, or people. But everyone has a unique relationship to disability and impairment. Some people “just happen” to have an impairment. Some people define their lives by their disability. Some people find an impairment to be one aspect of themselves. For many, the relation to disability changes. Within those layers, many people have intersections of other experiences around race, age, poverty, gender, sexuality and more, that interact uniquely with their disability experiences.

My favorite thing about terms like crip, krip, and gimp is that they’re reclaiming terms that are supposed to be insulting. You want to insult me by calling me crippled? You can’t because I already call myself that! Ha!

The other part is that a person may have an impairment, but the disability or the “being crippled” comes from society. It might be a lack of ramps and access. It might be places with too much light and noise and people unwilling to lower those things. It definitely is attitudes that PWDs–whatever name we go by–cost too much, take too many benefits, drag down society, don’t contribute enough, can’t contribute enough, ask for special treatment unnecessarily, don’t need as much dignity as others, and should be prevented from being born when possible. Those attitudes disable people. But there are folks changing it!

Look here at a great reclaiming of a dinky label: I AM PWD online, which stands for (Inclusion in the Arts & Media of People with Disabilities). Yay!

Disability and mixed ability arts haven’t been quiet, but they haven’t been largely recognized in mainstream media as high quality arts. That’s why it’s so wonderful that I AM PWD exists. It’s people with disabilities working and advocating, not hiring non-disabled people to advocate for us.

Also, here’s the vision about the media in the Madrid Declaration about Discrimination. This was adopted at the European Congress on Disability in 2002:

“The Media should create and strengthen partnerships with associations of people with disabilities, in order to improve the portrayal of disabled people in mass media. More information on disabled people should be included in the media in recognition of the existence of human diversity. When referring to disability issues, the media should avoid any patronising or humiliating approaches but focus instead on the barriers disabled people face and the positive contribution to society disabled people can make once these barriers have been overcome.”

They’re not asking people to overcome their disabilities (a concept I genuinely don’t get). They’re asking for partnerships to dismantle barriers that prevent us from making our full contributions. If you think we don’t contribute enough, be sure to check out how many systems are in place to prevent us from contributing enough!

A gray t-shirt with iron on letters spelling "I heart Disability." The heart is drawn like a brain in the shape of a heart.

Here’s my favorite t-shirt that I made!