Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Politically correct

A year or two ago, I read a book by Madeleine Witham called Ella. It tells the story of her daughter, Ella, who has Cornelia de Lange Syndrome. This very rare condition causes significant intellectual and physical symptoms. I greatly admire Madeleine’s courage, endurance, and her deep love for both her daughters. The book also departs from Ella’s story from time to time to talk more broadly of community attitudes and approaches to families and people with disabilities. Following the book, I found Madeleine had a blog called “Love Ella”.

It was reading her blog that taught me the difference between a “disabled person” and a “person with a disability”. I’ve always been a bit sceptical of politically correct language. The language surrounding people with a disability seems to have changed more than once since I was a girl and I gave up trying to work out what we all ought to be saying now. Some terms like “spastic” and “retarded” have been so misused as terms of spite that their medical meanings have almost been erased from normal conversation. But surely, I thought, there’s no real difference to “disabled person” and “person with a disability”?

I was wrong. And it does matter.

A “person with is a disability” acknowledges that the person we are talking about is first and foremost a person. They might also have disabilities that require special attention and assistance. But they are still a person – their personhood is not impaired or dismantled or disabled or not working. And the difference that makes is actually no small thing. It is profound. It’s something that as a follower of Jesus I’m particularly drawn to affirm. A person with a disability is made in the image of God. They are suffering from the fact that this world is no longer what it was meant to be. But they are of the same essence as me – born in the image of God. And when I say “person with a disability”, I remind myself that I’m taking about a person before I go on to talk of anything else.

Madeleine’s blog is no longer active, and more’s the pity. But since then I’ve become a regular reader of thinking of starting a blog. Alison is married with three children, one of whom has multiple disabilities. I really have no idea what it’s like to juggle all the things that a mum in that situation has to do on a daily basis. I need to be looking around for ways to support people who have those kinds of extra responsibilities. I’m pretty ashamed that it took me so long to learn the difference between calling someone a “disabled person” and calling someone a “person with a disability”. But I’m glad I do now.

The book Ella can be ordered online, found in large bookstores or borrowed from your local library. Alison’s blog is called thinkingofstartingablog.

1 comment:

Karen said...

Hmm...I commented earlier but it seems to have disappeared. Blogger does that to me sometimes.
Thanks for this. A few years ago I did some research on parents of children with disabilities and what they spent their time doing. Eye-opening stuff.
Will definitely check out the book and the blog.
With you re the politically correct language thing. Had to pull up a few students this semester who wrote in their assignments that people with cerebral palsy were "sufferers." Um, no, I don't think so.