Disability is not Inability?

G’day, friends, welcome back to another week and blog post!

I was doing a little research for potential blog topics lately and stumbled across this phrase ‘ disability is not inability’.

It got me thinking about the concept of disability, particularly the word within it, ‘ability’.

People talk about abilities all the time in the world of sports or education or even in politics and your everyday 9-5. Some people are natural-born swimmers, arguers, and runners.

However, people also use the term ‘unique/ different ability’ instead of saying disability.

And it had me thinking, is the narrative of disability fading, and is this a seemingly innocent way of refusing to acknowledge a disability? Or is it a significant turning point in disability equality?

I have always loved advocating for the societal underdog; I have always been super opinionated, which growing up caused havoc as I just wouldn’t shut up and would often show my disdain for things being done or said around me. Speaking up against inequality and mistreatment has been my bread and butter in conversations and even why I chose the degree I did.

So naturally, this idea of disability is not inability stood out to me, and I had to go and research this idea to understand what was meant behind this.

What struck me was the sheer volume of authors, politicians and activists spreading this message.

It is easy to conform to ideas narrated by people in society and, indeed, the group you identify with. So, my idea of disability is not inability immediately made me think it’s not highlighting that we are disabled; it’s refusing to acknowledge that we are different.

But immediately, I felt like such a hypocrite. I have preached in every speech I have been fortunate to give and in the conversations I have had that just because you have a disability doesn’t mean you are of less value; you are able in your way. Hence why, the name Living Abled has been this blog title.

Me and a grey horse standing face to face. I have a hand between its eyes, giving it a pat. My face is hidden behind my helmet

So safe to say my idea of what the concept of disability is not inability meant quickly vanished

What this idea of disability is not inability is trying to preach to people is the same message I have been trying to spread. It attempts to educate society that people with disabilities are of value and desire inclusivity and understanding.

The stigma of disability is often toxic and harmful. Some people question how we can participate in society because the stigma is that we are greedy and ill-tempered, angry at anyone and everyone who walks and looks ‘normal’.

Presenting this idea that disability is not inability, and in fact, we have as much value to offer society, opens the doorway for multiple new barriers to finally come down. But, it is also the start of unequivocal and complete acceptance.

The only thing that prevents people like me from obtaining that complete acceptance is the society around us. Sure there are ramps and braille, quiet hours, seeing-eyed dogs, wheelchairs, and breathing machines. However, what is truly lacking is unequivocal acceptance and equality.

The hoops I have been asked to jump through just even to be considered for a job. Being asked to fit into tight spaces to get from point a to b in an office even though there was another way. Mentors have even told me that what is being asked of me regarding what qualifications I need for a paralegal job needs to be revised.

me in my work uniform. Black pants nude shoes a patterned shirt and black blazer.

Buildings are still not universally accessible, neither air travel or other public transport methods.

Ultimately, this leaves the question, is disability a legitimate thing or is it societally constructed?

Many people in the disability space believe we are only disabled because of the world around us; therefore, we feel disabled.

Sure, in a lot of ways, that may be the case.

However, acceptance is the biggest thing that covers every element of society and what every human wants most. To be accepted and embraced into a community that is not just the group they originally belong to.

To be of value and have a place at the table, to be able to call the shots in our lives in Parliaments instead of people with no background in disability assuming what we need. That is the biggest threat to ensuring disabled people remain at the bottom of the food chain. As long as that continues to happen, disability will continue to be looked upon as unable.

So I do believe that disability is not inability. It is not trying to remove the idea of disability but to acknowledge that we all have incredible abilities in our own right. And that our capabilities deserve to be celebrated and appreciated in the same way that our able brothers and sisters are. And not just in the sporting arena but in every industry.

We still have a long way to go in our fight to have the idea that disability is not an inability to be embraced. However, we can’t do it alone. We need allies from all parts of the globe to be beside us as we continue to show that we are of value and deserve opportunities to live the life we envisioned for ourselves.

The idea will never take away the fact that disability is a thing whether it has been societally constructed. We will always have para sports because putting an S6 classified athlete up against the Ian Thorpe’s of the world would be unfair. So we will always need that little extra accommodation, whether additional assistance to stand, speak or to pick out the weekly groceries without sensory overload. But that doesn’t mean we are unable.

A blue wheelchair-accessible ramp on the sand leading to the ocean. Disability made able just by one simple invention.

But is there such an issue with asking for more accessibility and understanding? Disability isn’t just one thing; hundreds of different abilities need other accommodations. Without those accommodations and being understood and valued, the idea of disability as unable will continue.

Martin Luther King JR once said, ‘I have a dream’. I have a dream that one day, my ‘disabled’ brothers and sisters will feel what it is like to support a family of their own, by themselves without government support because they have a job, to travel wherever they want, and to be seen as human and have their abilities and ideas shouted from the rooftop and acknowledged, and to go about their lives with unconditional support while feeling safe to own their abilities and who they are without shame.

Till next week,


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