In our fast-paced culture, we frequently look at people or objects and subconsciously (sometimes not-so-subconsciously) define them. Putting them into categories, trying to make life more explainable and manageable.
However, in our attempt to simplify and categorize, it’s often the case that we overlook important details or miss the big picture.
This was the topic of an event at Butler University called Disable the Label.
The school gathered speakers whose extraordinary abilities led them to accomplish incredible things without letting their disability get it in the way. Their accomplishments ranged from Olympic athletics to music, artistry to politics. The speakers represented millions of people throughout the world with both intellectual and physical disabilities.
Speaking to more than 300 students attending, the keynotes explained that a disability shouldn’t be used as a description of who a person is, only as something they have.
Treating the disability as their identity is often demoralizing, putting the focus on what they aren’t able to do rather than capitalizing on the abilities and personality they have to offer.
Whether simply saying that a person is autistic (rather than saying they have autism) or using more degrading terms like “retarded,” defining a person by their disability undermines the equal value they have as a human being in the same way racism or sexism does. Similar to how we wouldn’t say that someone who has cancer is cancer, people with disabilities also don’t want to be classified by their disability.
Autism activist Savannah Demoret commented that fixing this mindset “makes sure you put the people first and the disability second. There is so much more to a person than their disability.”
Focusing on the person, not the disability, makes them inclusive and acknowledges they have worth to our society.