Food for Thought: Disabled Semantics

The word ‘disabled’ can be thought of in two different ways. When talking about people, we tend to say “he is disabled” (disabled as adjective). In technology, however, we tend to talk about disabling things (disabled from the verb “to disable”).

Let’s look at this closer: “he is disabled” tends to imply that there is something wrong with the subject. “He has been disabled” implies that some external factor has caused inconvenience to the subject. But we could be looking at only one subject, from two different viewpoints.

Nothing profound here; differing viewpoints are why we have the medical model of disability (the “he is disabled” model) and the social model of disability (“he has been disabled”).

And here we come to the core of disablism: different viewpoints. Fighting disablism entails changing the perception; to do this, people have to be led to ask (and understand) the question “is it something that he is, or is it something that has been done to him?”