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So what are we going to call them?

  • Posted by The Goldfish
  • 3 Jul 07, 3:42 PM

I was thinking about this before I saw Nicola's run-down of Bad Language, but it fits in nicely. Esteemed blogger Wheelchair Dancer has found herself accused of being bitter and twisted for using the acronym TAB (Temporarily Able Bodied) to refer to those of her fellow dancers who are not disabled. Now that Nicola has addressed the different ways in which disabled people are described, what about them others? Are you not disabled? What's that like? And how would you prefer to be referred to?

AB or Able-bodied people
I must say I strongly object to able-bodied simply because it is inaccurate. People who have non-physical impairments of all variety are too frequently excluded from discussions about disability and such a phrase compounds this. Many people also assume they can assess abled-bodiedness by appearance alone; harking on about people on disability benefits or using disabled parking etc., being perfectly able-bodied when really they mean, "This person isn't in a wheelchair and my imagination cannot stretch beyond that fact."

It wouldn't be so problematic if this word was only used to refer to people without physical impairments, but whilst it is used to still create a false dichotomy between disability and the ability to walk unaided, I prefer to avoid it completely.

Temporarily Abled Bodied (TAB), Temporarily Non-Disabled, Disabled-In-Waiting, Not Yet Disabled etc.
Penny at the Disabled Studies, Temple U. blog wrote a brief history of TAB, which is well worth a read. Obviously I don't like it because I don't like the able-bodied bit, but the suggestion that Wheelchair Dancer received when she used this term was that the temporary status was a curse; the time will come when you're just like me. As far as I am concerned, one can only see this as a curse if one accepts that impairment is inevitably a cause for suffering.

Of course, acquiring an impairment is not inevitable for anyone, but many people believe it couldn't happen to them. Very few people progress far into old age without having some degree of restricted mobility and some deterioration in sight, hearing, short-term memory and sometimes cognition. Once again, one can see this as a tragedy or just another phase of life - a phase which one might even feel privileged to have made it to.

I know that Lady Bracknell prefers the term not yet disabled, which somehow makes disability sound less inevitable. I'm not yet rich; nothing is guaranteed. Perhaps this is preferable?

People without disabilities, People without a disability (Pw/oD)

This only makes sense if you think that disability is a problem a person has, the same as a medical label or functional impairment, as opposed to something that a person experiences within society. Personally, the only thing I have in common with other disabled people is experience; things which happen to us as opposed to any similarities in our medical records. So people without disabilities doesn't mean a lot to me.

Normals, Normies, Norms etc..
I like the use of these words when informally addressing prejudice. The whole nature of prejudice is that one person perceives themselves to be normal and whichever group they're mistreating to be abnormal. In order to have prejudice, they must consider their normality to be a good thing, so why not let them have the label they consider so precious?

But for our allies, it does make them sound rather boring. And once again, it's inaccurate; I know lots of people who aren't disabled who are really quite extraordinary. Arguably they have to try a little harder at it...

A not dissimilar word used in a formal context is neurotypical or NT used to refer to people who are not on the autistic spectrum in clinical, social and political discussions about autism, autistic people and the particular social barriers they face. This has lead to the parody website of the Institute for the Study of the Neurologically Typical or ISNT, which challenges the stereotype of people with autism not having a sense of humour (or indeed, a mean streak), and even provides an On-line NT Screening Test, to see if you too might suffer from this tragic affliction (the website claims that it effects as many as 9625 people in every 10,000!).

Walkie Talkies or Walkie Talkie Types
This is kind of cool and can cover a massive range of impairments that effect mobility or communication in some way, even those that don't impair one in the specific tasks of walking and talking. Unfortunately, whilst I have heard it used very inclusively, it is subject to interpretation in a similar way to able-bodied. I did a quick Google to try to gage how commonplace this phrase was and found this essay; Coming Home to Disabled Country by Sarah Triana and Laura Obara. It demonstrates how a phrase like Walkie Talkie can be used by disabled people to exercise prejudice against other disabled people. Which is sad, because I kind of like the phrase.

Non-disabled people
Is a simple opposite to disabled people. Strictly speaking, it's a double negative, but merely abled is a bit meaningless. The same construction used in other contexts has sparked controversy; it was felt to be inappropriate to refer to people as being non-white when talking about ethnicity because this implied that white was the default or even superior, when only a small minority of the world's population are white. Disabled people are also a minority, but this phrase is only ever used in the limited context of talking about disability; in most conversations about society, non-disabled is assumed to be the default status and therefore not even mentioned.

It's a rather boring one, but it is my own personal preference. So what do you reckon?

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Oh, I generally use "non-disabled people". Certainly in mixed company.

I only use "not yet disabled" when it can be accompanied by a pantomine villain laugh: in other words, when I'm being informal, and am with people who will get the joke. (Not all of whom are disabled...)

"Able-bodied" I loathe and detest, for all the reasons you have outlined.

The Dude and I went through a "walkie-talkies" phase, but the novelty wore off quite quickly. We're just not capable of sustaining that level of malice or bitterness for very long.

"Normies", I rather like. It's informal and affectionate. Again, I'd never use it in a professional scenario: it wouldn't be appropriate. But, to me at least, it's the friendliest of the lot.

  • 2.
  • At 06:15 PM on 03 Jul 2007, TRACEY THIRLWALL wrote:

As an alternatively abled person, I do not see the problem with any of the terminoligy used.When I have been pushed in my wheelchair by a complete stranger because in their opinion I did not move up the que fast enough. I have also been helped to move when I was quite happy where I was.At these points the so called normal people suddenly seemed extremly disabled in their views to me.Respect is far more important than a label.

I find myself alternating between able-bodied and non-disabled. What you say is true. Rethinking able-bodied for a moment, it doesn't make sense, certainly not if you use the Social Model. Also there comes a point of acceptance of disability that means you no longer mark yourself out as 'less able', and come out of the Disability Closet, as Zephyr so aptly described it.

As I used in an earlier post, I like normate. It rolls off the tongue so well and fits in so many conversations. It's also a wee bit offensive while being a wee bit funny. That's a combination that works for me.

You're all missing the point. As a non-disabled person, I've had many a conversation with other people about how non-disabled people refer to disabled people and the fear associated with not getting the term right.

Is so-and-so blind? Is he visually challenged? Is he vision impaired? And so on.

So in the interests of political correctness, I'd like to propose that us 'normies' (the term I myself use about myself when in this sort of conversation) are referred to as ... wait for it....



Can I adopt you?

  • 7.
  • At 11:08 PM on 04 Jul 2007, Glee wrote:

What about "uprights"

I am next in the queue for Jack

As a Deaf person, I have occasionally liked to refer to hearing people as "Deaf impaired" ;-)

Yes, let's form the "League to Adopt A Disability-Challenged Person" where we each contribute $5 a month toward the aid and comfort of one or more of these tragically afflicited individuals. (Translate to British pounds or other currency as appropriate.)

A photo and bio of each adopted disability-challenged normie will be provided. Heart-melting adorability is guaranteed. Tooth-gaped smiles are available for an extra fee. Fees will generally be higher in the case of individuals who are initially resistant to the idea of becoming gap toothed. (Don't you know how EXPENSIVE hammers and tranquilizers can be? Not to mention the cost of subsequent financial compenstation?)

In the case of adult adoptees, photos from early childhood will be provided so as to avoid the discomforting reminder that some disability-challenged people do, after all, survive into adulthood. In the case of inconveniently non-adorable adoptees, a stand-in photo model will be provided in their place.

Volunteers will facilitate the exchange of letters between adoptees and donors. Letters from the adopted disability-challenged individuals will be charmingly hand-written, complete with endearing spelling errors and child-like drawings. In the case of adult adoptees, a local child will be loaned to the organization to supply the drawings on his or her behalf.

Jack shall be the first disability-challenged individual to be put up for adoption. I see here that two kind-hearted individuals, who clearly have hearts of gold, have already generously offered to take this tragic soul under their nurturing wings.

Jack shall also be the poster child for this crucial campaign. Congratulations, Jack!

Just in case it wasn't clear, my post above was, of course, meant to be a parody ;-)

That's all fair enough - but I'd just like to warn Lady Bracknell's Editor that there will be an invoice for 32 years worth of pocket money arriving in her inbox shortly :-)

And if it helps, I can do a reasonable 'puppy dog eyes' thing for the poster campaign so I look a bit more pitiful...

Hang on a sec. I stopped getting pocket money when I was 18. And I didn't start until I was about 6.

Darling child, much as I love you, I'm not convinced I owe you pocket money for the years when you've been earning your own living.

Pairs of socks for 32 Christmases, possibly.

But not pocket money.

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