“Disabled” and “disability” are tricky words. The formal definition is “any condition that makes it more difficult for a person to do certain activities or interact with the world around them. These conditions, or impairments, may be cognitive, developmental, intellectual, mental, physical, sensory, or a combination of multiple factors.” (I recommend reading the extensive
Wikipedia article on disability where I found this definition.)
Under this or almost any other definition, I am disabled. Why don’t I ever think of myself in this way? Almost without exception, we all resist getting hearing aids, using a cane or a walker, or taking medicine for chronic conditions. Again, why?
I believe that older adults (including myself) resist using equipment that marks us as disabled, and especially resist the label “disabled” because we unconsciously think less of “those” people, and we do not want to join that group. And we certainly don’t want to be treated as “special!”
News flash! Whether disabilities are defined as medical, social or functional [look up those definitions], those of us who are aging are experiencing decreases in our abilities and in the expectations of those around us. We are “disabled,” and we don’t like it one little bit.
Rather than denial, maybe it would be healthy to reflect on our own tendency to distance ourselves from people who are not like us, and to consider them somehow “less than.”
Can we admit that we are disabled? To do otherwise is to say to people with more identifiable disabilities, “I don’t want to be in your group. Your group is not OK.”
I hope we can do better than that. I hope that our admission of our disabilities will open the door to understanding barriers that people with disabilities face, and that we can join them in breaking down those barriers.
Peter Graber serves as board president for Anabaptist Disabilities Network. He is a retired communications and fundraising professional living in Elkhart, Ind. with his wife, Mary and daughter, Emily, who lives with multiple disabilities. They attend Sunnyside Mennonite Church in Elkhart.