The disability community has every right to get itself hung up on the language that it uses, but disabled people have a right to choose how they identify with their disability as well.
Identity matters to everyone in its own way. For many, identity gives a sense of belonging, and for others, an immense sense of pride. For a community that has suffered oppression for decade after decade, disabled people have often disagreed on what the correct term used to identify is, but a sense of belonging in the community has shown its benefits.
Service providers and Government use different terms, as do advocacy groups and disability rights activists.
Traditionally, the term ‘disabled people’ has been most commonly used, based on the social model of disability. That model states that systematic barriers, negative attitudes, and exclusion are the main contributing factors toward disabling people. Some people prefer this traditional term, but others prefer ‘impairment’ or ‘person with a disability’.
For those who are a part of the Autism community, often the word ‘autistics’.
Give Disabled People Choice On Identity
As a disabled person myself, I don’t personally say things like “hi I am a disabled person” whenever I meet someone new. I simply introduce myself, with my name. I think this goes for a lot of people with disabilities.
I have often found that these discussions about language can be counter-productive in large parts. But in recent times I’ve begun to challenge that thinking.
How can something so important, like identity, not be of high importance?
Identity is vitally important, and the key for the disability community is to step back and allow people to identify in any which way they like. A person’s’ disability is a part of their life, but it is not the totality of their life. How they choose to identify is entirely their right, as is how they choose to deal with it. I know some people with disabilities who choose to totally disengage with the disability community and just go about their lives expecting the same virtue as anyone else.
The point is, we can’t put a label on disabled people and say that they belong is this or that part of the community. They will identify and find a sense of belonging in their own way. Step back and let it happen.