disability, Uncategorized

A Note About Language and Models of Disability

When talking about disability, people use two different types of language to refer to people who have one: person-first language, or identity-first language.

Person-first language posits that saying “a person with a disability”, “a person with autism”, etc. reduces both subconscious and conscious stigma in the minds of the user, and that this language emphasizes the humanity of the referred person.

The alternative to this is identity-first language– using “I am disabled” vs “I am a person with disabilities.”  Stating that person needs to come before my disability or condition implies to me that my disability is shameful, that it should come second and therefore is “Other” than myself. But the way I experience my life is as a disabled person. This will always color my perceptions. Even if my disabilities magically disappeared, those experiences have and will continue to shape who I am.

In Autistic and Deaf communities, among many others, the concept of person-first language is often considered offensive. Those communities consider their Deafness or autism not to be a disability in the negative sense; they consider it an intrinsic part of their identity. As Lydia Brown (AutisticHoya) puts it:

“When we say “person with autism,” we say that it is unfortunate and an accident that a person is Autistic. We affirm that the person has value and worth, and that autism is entirely separate from what gives him or her value and worth. In fact, we are saying that autism is detrimental to value and worth as a person, which is why we separate the condition with the word “with” or “has.” Ultimately, what we are saying when we say “person with autism” is that the person would be better off if not Autistic, and that it would have been better if he or she had been born typical. We suppress the individual’s identity as an Autistic person because we are saying that autism is something inherently bad like a disease.”

This leads nicely into the social model vs. the medical model of disability. The social model of disability says that no one is truly disabled; rather, the world around us is not accessible. We would not be considered impaired if the world around us would work with what we need.

To some extent, that is true.

The medical model of disability proposes that all disability is bad and needs to be fixed, and that no one would possibly want to be disabled. It enforces that there is a way to be “normal”, and fails to consider that perhaps being normal could also be oppressive and deny someone their person-hood.

As for me, there are things I’d like to be cured of: if the world was completely accessible, I would still be in pain. I would still be a type 1 diabetic. I might be able to get around more easily, but a random flare could still leave me crying in my bed unable to walk.

I’ll die on the social model of disability hill. It is the primary framework I use. But I think a lot of the nuance of it has really disappeared in the face of the persistent oppressive ways that the medical community interfaces with disabled folx. And that makes sense. But it doesn’t change my experiences either.

On this blog, I’ll be using identity-first language and mostly the social model of disability, because I think it is the best way to frame accessibility conversations. And when it comes to gaming accessibility, it should and will need to be a conversation. But when talking to anyone else, ask how they prefer to be referred to and then respect that. While I have (clearly) some firm beliefs on how I want to be described, I’m certainly not going to push that on anyone else.

I hope this assists in understanding both