Why We Should Stop Accommodating The Disabled

20 Apr, 2015 Bob Wilson


I'm tired of accommodating the disabled. I don't think we should do it anymore. The entire exercise is swathed in negativity. In accommodation today, we label people as incapable of doing certain things, and set about to adjust the environment around them so that they can still “get by”, forever dependent on society's willingness to make room for their special needs. We've been accommodating the disabled for over two decades, and as far as I can tell it is not working. It's only given us many more disabled people, with the disability roles swelling by the millions. No, I do not think that accommodating the disabled is something we should continue doing.

Instead I think we should focus on enabling the impaired.

Now, here is the tricky part. On the surface, accommodating the disabled and enabling the impaired look virtually the same. It requires the same societal modifications and adjustments we are doing today. The biggest difference is that these actions would focus on a more positive mental image. Enabling the impaired allows people with physical and mental challenges to function without the damaging, soul sucking label of disability.

I suppose this opinion is being driven by my ever growing distaste for the word disability. I have come to consider it an albatross, a label that is more often misinterpreted than accurately applied. It is, for some, a self fulfilling prophecy; assume the mantle of disability and so it shall be. “They tell me I am disabled, so I am.” Everything about the word has become a negative connotation. For many, the actual definition of disability, “a physical or mental condition that limits a person's movements, senses, or activities”, becomes the definition of their very persona. Considering some synonyms for the word are handicap, incapacity, infirmity, defect, and abnormality really brings that point home. 

Being labeled as disabled is the opposite of being enabled.

Over the years both in my blog and at conferences across the nation, I have provided numerous examples of people who have experienced traumatic physical injury or illness that has resulted in the loss of limbs or created some other major impairment. However, I do not consider any of those people as disabled. I doubt they feel that way, either. The defining difference in those cases is that, while they each have a significant physical impairment, they do not have a disability. That is because the impairment is the physical reality for these people. Disability, however, is determined by how their mind chooses to interpret that reality. 

I am not naive. I recognize that there are severely impaired people who meet the true definition of disabled. For each of those extreme cases, however, I suspect there are many more where the label itself is doing more damage than the actual impairment they suffer. At least one state, Oregon, actually defines their injury classification using the word. Their statutorily defined terms are “Disabling claims” and “Non-disabling claims”. Imagine being an injured worker, grappling with the reality of a potential permanent impairment, and being labeled as a “Disabling claim”. Do you think that would have an impact on their view of the situation? 

In short, being disabled is all about things you can no longer do without special accommodation or the help of society. Enabling the impaired, on the other hand, is about recognizing that potential and ability still exist, that capability and achievement are not out of reach, and that society only need remove some obstacles to allow that to happen. It is about empowerment versus control, ability versus inability, and independence versus a subjugated existence. It is about encouraging a life of achievement and independence, and is why we must stop simply accommodating the disabled. We need to shift our mental outlook, and start helping empower the impaired; enabling them both for their future, as well as our own.

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