We all know how important language is to our everyday lives. It helps us exclaim we hate Mondays, it’s there for us when we want to pretend like we know what we’re talking about on a date (c’mon, how many times have you tried to say something intelligent and sexy to the person across the table, when in fact you’ve either confused or offended them?), and language has helped us to identify and connect with each other.
As a person with a disability, I have always found the language that we use to describe disability very interesting. Let’s be honest, we tend to discuss disability in very particular ways: either we marinate in medical terminology, choosing to speak only in symptomology, our dialect all about diagnoses and nothing else whatsoever.
This language looks something like: “Andrew’s Spastic Quadriplegic Cerebral Palsy means that he is non-ambulatory, and requires the use of a wheelchair.” This language is important because it helps to categorize my condition, or catalogue my crippled, if you will. It’s safely couched in medical texts, and can be easily referenced if required.
But what is sexy about that language? Picture this: You’re at a coffee house, and you bump into someone who you’ve been eyeing for some time now. You decide to finally approach them (in my head, this is one of those slow motion montages from an 80s film; but, in real life, I am plowing my wheelchair into the coffee tables trying to remain suave). Using the above language, here’s how that might look:
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In your most seductive voice you say, “Hey. What’s up? I have spastic quadriplegia requiring the use of a wheelchair. Wanna hang sometime?” Let’s be real, if someone said that to me, I would half smile and gracefully exit as politely as possible. Note: The only time the word “quadriplegia” is sexy, is when we’re role-playing doctor. Also, it’s not the mouthful that I want you to be worried about.
When we’re not discussing diagnoses and disability, we tend to use “person-first” language when referring to disability. This is the most commonly accepted way to talk about disability today, and looks like this: “Andrew is a Person with a Disability, who is differently-abled and accesses the world around him in his mobility device.” This language is a great step forward, in how we speak about disability, as it understands that the individuals living with disability are people first. This language is suited for the academic and political arenas, but it certainly doesn’t make me want to tear the pants off a PwD and have my way with them. Let’s review:
You’re in this hopping club (yeah, I did just say “hopping”), and this really sexy person is on the dance floor. So, you fight your way through the drunken crowd, indiscriminately running over people, inching closer to your part-time lover, and over the loud Beyonce remix, you say:
“Hey! I am a Person with a Disability. I use my mobility device to get around because I am differently-abled. What are you up to?” This doesn’t exactly seep sexiness, does it?
Ultimately, disability is only described in the most perfunctory of ways. It doesn’t have any buzz or spark about it. Not only is it boring, as I have shown, it is often inaccessible. Many people don’t feel right about using the medical terminology, and person-first language has so many variables, it can seem daunting indeed. Moreover, many people feel they cannot use this language, because disability is not their experience. We need to find a dialogue that everyone can embrace, and that tells them disability is everyone’s experience. What if you meet the sexiest person who just happens to use a wheelchair or walker? How would you want to refer to them?
In the LGBTQ+ community, there are a number of different ways the community describes its members: “bears”, “pups”, “daddies”, “twinks” etc. Each group fiercely represented and connected to this representation. It simply becomes a positive part of the identity, and it is terminology that everyone can access. It is sexy, playful and fun.
We must have the same type of language to describe disability. We must use words that aren’t weighted down by malady or political posturing. A few months ago, I was part of a local photo shoot for people embracing their bodies for the New Year. During the interview, I was asked how I wanted to describe myself. All of a sudden, I blurted out: “I am Deliciously Disabled.” In that very moment, I knew I had created a new model for disability that would allow for everyone, whether disabled or not, to be a part of the conversation. It was fun, it is playful, and most importantly, it is tastefully different than what is currently on offer.
It reminds us that disability should be seen as sexy and fun, instead of sad and frustrating all the time. Being Deliciously Disabled doesn’t mean that there aren’t days where the experience of disability is altogether exhausting. Rather, it is a lexicon that accepts disability as is, not for what it should or could be. Deliciously Disabled does not theorize, deconstruct or politicize disability, it shows that disability is a flavor that we should all get a taste of.
Also, let’s be honest, it is a pretty sexy way to describe disability, isn’t it? Let’s go back to our bar/coffee shop scenario. You approach the really sexy guy in your wheelchair, and he says:
“Hey!” He nervously approaches you, “Can I ask what happened to you?”
You smile coyly, and continue spastically dancing to the song, and without missing a step you say: “Nothing happened, I am Deliciously Disabled.” In that moment you have allowed for him to see that you are owning your disability, and also welcoming him into it, helping him to form a positive representation of disability going forward.
Language is an important part of our identities. It can connect us to one another, and helps us to understand the world around us. In terms of disability, language has been used to describe our prognosis. It has been used to politicize us and help us to define our personhood. Sadly, not any of this language has portrayed us as playful, powerful and provocative. Deliciously Disabled is a movement which aims to do just that, while also offering everyone a seat at the table.