Should We Reconsider Using the Term ‘Differently Abled’?

I belong to a middle-class family, and was not raised in a conventional way by my mumma and papa. I’m providing this preface so that you can place me in the picture I want to see myself in.

I heard someone using the phrase ‘differently abled’ a few years back, in a rather casual way.

Earlier, I used to use terms like “physically handicapped” or “physically impaired” while addressing people with some kind of disability, too. While these phrases subconsciously evoked a sense of fear – because I never wanted to be a one-armed girl or someone who can’t see – I never hated them.

Maybe I was terrified because both my parents are deaf and dumb and I always detested how people treated me and my parents differently.

While growing up, I would hear people say, “your parents are deaf and dumb and these are their medical certificates authenticating them as 80% deaf and 75% dumb.”

Maybe they thought the certificates would help me with school and, honestly, that might’ve been true in some instances! But more than that, I used to get a lot of unwarranted attention from people because of my parents’ condition. “She seems so perfect. No one can tell that both her parents can’t speak and hear,” people would say.

Even though these sounded nice on the surface, I was never flattered by such words. In fact, I was always terrified because I was made to feel like I shouldn’t be like my parents in any way – that their disability made them lesser somehow. The idea of losing a physical ability would send shivers down my spine.

Eventually, I started being ashamed of my parents’ condition. “Where do your mumma and papa live? Do they work out of town? Are they being transferred anytime soon? That would be tough for you, right?” they would say.

I appreciate that people were always so concerned about me. But I never realised that this overt and, frankly, insincere concern was actually turning me into someone I’d never wanted to be. Soon enough, I started showing concern for others in similarly insincere ways. It was only later that I realised this was all just working towards making me hate my parents. And that’s when my thinking changed.

My parents aren’t different from others; they’re just like all of us. They travel to places they like, attend functions, earn well, and above all, they love their kids a lot.

So, to me it doesn’t really make sense calling them “physically impaired” or even “differently abled”. To me, they’re as ‘abled’ as the next person.

It might seem like I’m trying to get your attention or seek sympathy by sharing my story. No, that’s not true. I’m here to talk about something which requires everyone’s attention, and I’d be more than happy even if a single person understands what I’m trying to say.

A few days back, I was talking to my boyfriend and told him to raise our future kids (if we have any) with love and respect if anything bad were to happen to me. “They might fail in subjects they may not be good at, or they might not aspire to be engineers, doctors, or scientists or might not be good at speaking English. But they shouldn’t grow up to become bad human beings,” I said.

I don’t want my children to disrespect others, to mock their grandparents or even sympathise with them just because that’s what society dictates. I want them to treat everyone equally.

I remember, someone once shushed me when I called a person handicapped. “He’ll hear you and might feel bad,” he said.

One shouldn’t be repulsed by people who are physically impaired, nor should one disingenuously sympathise with them. Respect them just how you would respect your family members.

I don’t mind using words like “handicapped” or “impaired,” but I do mind when people try to be over-sympathetic towards my parents.

Just be nice to them like you are with everyone else.

Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty