Tricky terminology

Those living with a disability today, just like those living without, will have varying opinions of life: from terminology to attitudes and from severity to definitions.  Communities of sorts may not all be in alignment when it comes to expressing feelings and thoughts about what living with a condition/disability means to them. 

Terminology can sound cruel at times for those who have not moved on and realised that major changes have taken place with the word 'person' placed before the issue/disability.  As a child I suffered from severe/life threatening asthma and was always referred to as 'an asthmatic' even before my name.  There are mixed feelings for me about this as I sometimes feel that 'asthmatic' is quickly named and called attention to the condition and described the urgency surrounding it.  These days with my breathing under control I would now be referred to as 'a person with a respiratory condition'.  I am a person and not just a set of lungs.  

So is it a group or personal matter? That of terminology?  Personally I would not hesitate to take my inhaler in a public place however for my mental health I would rather take medication in private...could this be a fear of prejudice?  Quite possibly.

Attitudes are changing it seems and thoughts and language are connected so even the use of 'a person with....' could call dignity and respect into the equation where previously it was perhaps a derogatory label with unkind consequences.  Small changes are better than no change.  Ultimately we cannot change people's thoughts but with an equal approach to people and exposure of all varying disabilities and above all personalities, the way can be cleared for different views and understanding.

Definition describes disabilities in the medical, social and personal sense.  Maybe there is more focus here on what is medical and 'not going well' in order to try and make the outcome better in the medical sense but a personal definition is exactly that, 'personal', and moreover described in the way which we choose - it could be a medical description we understand or something we have carved out for ourselves that fits better like 'mental health challenges' or 'exhaustion'.  We do not owe people an apology for ourselves. 

Terminology can cause confusion and also ironically cause a deeper understanding.  Many people with more severe disabilities may not be able to return to work for a while or even ever and be entitled to awards and grants.  Often what we see externally are the clues, evidence and symptoms of some kind of ill health however internally is where it all happens - internally is our brain and nervous system, where it is not always obvious that there may be mental anguish, psychological pain and severe deterioration.

Some of us may recover and some may overcome and even return to work. Goal setting, progress tracking and being realistic can all be beneficial for the journey ahead. Whatever the situation, it is in no way the end of accomplishments, goals or pursuits.  

So terminology can be tricky but the crucial part is to leave the words behind pointing out the perceived deficiency or lack of something and focus instead on achievement whether it is the ability to get out of bed, drive a mobility scooter, go to a support group or building new coping strategies. Our personal terminology, view of ourselves is the most important one as only we know the sheer effort required for often the 'simple things'.    

Paula Smith

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