Differently abled: Acclamation or Euphemism?

"Sorry!Oh..I'm really sorry!" What was merely a formality apology from me became a sincere one as I realised I had stumbled against a middle aged man in a wheelchair. I was at the airport for boarding a flight to a conference in Mumbai.I had completed the security checks and was proceeding towards the departure hall.I was in a hurry and didn't notice the man in the wheelchair.

He smiled at me meekly.

I apologised again.

"Sorry..I didn't see that you were.." Before I could complete the sentence,he intervened.

"..Differently abled?"

I stopped midway and though that was not exactly what I was going to say,I nodded my head in agreement.

"Its okay..no problem young man!" he replied and moved away.


I caught sight of my boarding gate and glanced at my watch.There was plenty of time left.I slumped into the nearby chair at the lounge.I turned my head and saw the man excitedly talking to someone beside him.


'Disabled'-it was the word I was going to utter when he had interrupted me.Its just that even after all the awareness,we naturally tend to use the word disabled as opposed to differently abled. However as I was pondering over this fact,a thought suddenly popped up in my mind: "Is the word differently abled a generous acknowledgement or is it merely a euphemism?"


So why do we use euphemisms rampantly when all they do is just sugar-coating the realities?Is it because we think the words or conditions for which they are substituted are too harsh or negative?To be honest,the word disabled is definitely traumatizing if not stigmatizing the situation of the concerned.But it has also to be kept in mind that alternative terminologies doesn't always mean lightening it.Many members of the disabled community worldwide has protested against the irrational usage of euphemisms which are more derogatory in nature.


In my opinion,euphemisms are sort of disrespectful in their own ways.Though these terms were introduced with the intention of goodwill,in a way these have become synonymous with using the real words itself.I am not telling that telling 'disabled' is better than using 'differently abled',but its just that the stigmas surrounding the former should go and for that the usage of the latter should come down.If you ponder over it,it would become evident that euphemistic expressions have not altered the prejudices against them in the first place.Have they?!


#SayTheWord Campaign was initiated by Lawrence Carter-Long sometime back with this same intention.Carter-Long is an actor and activist born with cerebral palsy.He first used this expression in his tweet in 2015 :

Don't be afraid of the word #Disabled. Say it. Own it. Organize around it. As long we're kept separate, we'll *never* be equal. #SayTheWord

The purpose of this campaign has been to encourage people to use the words like "Disabled" rather than swerving them in daily life especially while talking with such people.


Often we think substituting them with terms such as "differently abled","physically or mentally challenged" or referring to them as "people with special needs" are soothing but often its the contrary. Well,surveys reveal it is what the majority of disabled persons feel. So it is high time we try to be vocal in our actions rather than in choosing words!


What is your take in this debate? Let us discuss!


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This post is part of Blogchatter’s CauseAChatter.



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