Disabled, Not Broken

I have Aspergers Syndrome, anxiety disorder and, right now, depression. These are disabling conditions: I am disabled. But I’m not broken.

Disable (v): impair, make ineffective, prevent, render inoperative, preclude, disentitle.

Break (v): shatter, smash, fragment, disintegrate.

The conditions I have mean that there are some common activities that are either difficult or impossible for me to undertake. I am impaired in social situations because I cannot interpret non-verbal communication. I am ineffective in confrontations because my anxiety causes me to panic. I am prevented from concentrating at work by my depression.

So, yes, by the definition above I accept that I am disabled. But that is not the same as broken. Broken implies a loss of integrity. It implies that I am not a whole person, that my disabilities are somehow making me less than a person, less than human, inferior. And I will not accept that.

There are areas of my life where I require assistance or accommodations. It doesn’t mean I’m stupid. Just that I’m incapable of doing some things for myself. To a large degree I have learned to cope with everyday life. But it was a long process and my work-arounds are not perfect, nor are they without some cost to me.

I become exhausted more quickly because of the extra effort. I avoid certain situations as much as possible. I don’t want sympathy. But I do want to be treated with as much respect as anybody else: ableism angers me with its assumption that disabled people are worth less because there are things we cannot do that the able take for granted.

It doesn’t matter to me if somebody is better or worse at doing something than I am: that is not any reflection of their value as a person. I do judge people — that’s a very human thing to do. But I judge based on how they behave towards myself and others. To me that is the measure of somebody’s worth: I believe in treating others as I wish to be treated myself.

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25 thoughts on “Disabled, Not Broken

  1. I actually like the expression ‘handicapped’ better still than ‘disabled’ because it implies the possibility to overcome the impairment with the help of some sort of support .. or by people. Disabled implies ‘unable’ for me, but maybe this is all just a result of my mother-tongue not being English (and the German word ‘behindert’ implies ‘hinderance’ not ‘impossibility). but definitively NOT “broken”. =)

    • Handicapped does convey the sense in English that you are carrying an extra burden: the term is used in connexion with horse racing, for example, where it refers to extra weight carried. Disabled is the more common term in normal usage, having largely replaced handicapped when referring to people.

      • A while ago, we had a discussion about words that are insulting or ableist over on Alana’s blog. It was inspired by a list on Autistic Hoya that included handicapped and invalid as ableist slurs.

        This is what my response was.

        I am not quite sure yet where I stand. What I would like to see is more of an explanation *why* certain words can be hurtful.

        Take invalid and handicapped. I get that in English, the preferred word is disabled.

        However, in Dutch we don’t have the word disabled. We have the words “invalide” and “gehandicapt”, where invalide is the most direct translation (http://translate.google.nl/#en/nl/disabled) and is used for both temporary and permanent disabilities, and gehandicapt is the word used in government language and is mostly used to refer to permanent disabilities.

        So when both are hurtful words, I want to know why so I can look for a completely different word in Dutch. A word we don’t have yet.

        I like your connotation of handicapped as “bearing an extra weight”. But obviously some people will take offense at that. God, all language can be used to offend someone. I just don’t know. Disabled, not broken about sums it up for me too.

        • Language is such a minefield at times because of the cultural baggage outside of the dictionary definitions of some words. As you say, there is always someone who will find offense where none is intended. Handicapped is a good example of a word that used to be fairly neutral but has acquired negative connotations because of its history as a term used to mark a group of people as inferior.

          On the other hand, thinking about the meaning of handicap, “to [deliberately] impose a disadvantage,” it is generally society that imposes the disadvantages for disabled people by neglecting the provision of accommodations.

  2. lol, yeah i had seen the origin of the horserace too when I looked it up a while ago, but it’s interesting how most terms that were initially used as the pc word in the context of disabilities, mental illnesses etc have historically become insults and then were replaced. see here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euphemism_treadmill#Disability_and_handicap
    and that’s just in English.. In French ‘invalide’ even semi-valide is not shocking. handicappe (w accent) the official term still.
    I think it depends on so many things what term we like or do not like, our age, culture etc. I personally can’t get used to ‘impaired’.

  3. I’ve always used the term misabled, since the prefix is not an uncomparable, has degrees of definition according to contect – and is therefore entirely subjective. It also fits with my appreciation that wrongs of norm and wrong denote completely different things.

    So to be mis-abled, is not to be without ableness, just the wrong kind in a particular situation. There’s an awful lot of prescriptivism around labelling which I don’t agree with – sometimes, it’s better to outflank it.

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  6. I understand this very well. With my various sensitivities to stimuli, I count on my husband and son to help me get through many situations or to do what needs to be done instead of me. Like going to the grocery store most of the time. It’s a nightmare. I do battle with depression now and then as well. It can feel like trying to lift my limbs through cement that’s drying. So difficult to move forward. I think many people think of people on the spectrum as broken and it makes me very upset. It is incorrect and what you write here rings of so much truth. I had something happen a few months back that I just had the courage and strength to write about on my blog today. It was someone treating me like I was broken and needed fixing but in a very scary way. It made me lose a lot of trust in people. I do hope your depression will lift soon, Ben. I watch my son deal with it all the time. He gets much more depressed than I do. I know how hard it is. I think people don’t realize it. They equate it with being “sad”. It’s not sad. it’s so much more. Brightest blessings, Bird

    • I talk to some people who, like you say, think depression is just feeling sad. In my case feeling low is a minor part of it. By far the biggest problem is the loss of concentration which means I’m unable to do my job. That and the lack of motivation. Makes me so frustrated! I want to be able to function like normal and my mind won’t behave. It’s helpful to communicate with people who understand what it’s like. Thank you.

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