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How society creates physical and verbal barriers for disabilities

Published on June 27th, 2014

If someone asked you to think of the term “disability,” what words would come to mind? If you’re like a lot of people across Illinois, you might define it as a physical or mental condition that limits a person’s ability to move, obstructs the senses and/or encumbers activities. As readers of our blog know though, this is not how the Social Security Administration defines disability. Instead, it is considered to be a condition that affects a person’s ability to work.

Regardless of your personal definition, it’s worth noting that people who have a disability may have a completely different way of defining their state of being. And according to some, it’s society’s insensitivity towards a person’s self identity that is creating verbal barriers to the existing physical ones.

Consider for a moment how you refer to someone with a disability. Would you say “the person is disabled” or “the person has a disability?” If you couldn’t tell, each phrase has a very different connotation attached to it. While the first phrase suggests that the disability is who that person is, the second phrase shows that this is only one aspect of their total identity. Some would say that by not using person first terminology, society creates a verbal barrier between who that person is and how society views them.

It’s not just verbal barriers either, but physical barriers that can affect a person with a disability. As was suggested by an article in a small, online newspaper, society can sometimes create these physical barriers such as failing to fill pot holes on sidewalks or not providing transportation that accommodates people with disabilities. If we look at it this way, then we can see that it’s not the person’s condition that is preventing them from doing something, it’s the barrier created by society that is affecting them.

As the newspaper article points out, a disability is not necessarily an indicator of something that can’t be done, only what society thinks can’t be done. And it’s this insensitivity to a person’s identity that is not only creating barriers for that person but society on a whole as well.

Source: The Daily Journal, “OP-ED: Rethinking the term disability,” Vincent Merola, June 24, 2014


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