Kara Swanson's Brain Injury Blog

March 19, 2009

Sticks And Stones

I was interested in a writing job today and checked out the website of the company advertising for it.  On the home page of the site, they had a statement that read, and I’m paraphrasing here, that “we will NOT use words like disabled and handicapped.”  That stuck with me.  It bothered me and I had to sit with it and noodle it a bit.

I looked up the words, just to be sure: 

Handicapped:  Limited by an impediment of some kind.
1 the condition of being disabled; inability to pursue an occupation because of a physical or mental impairment; also a program providing financial support to one affected by disability
2 lack of legal qualification to do something
disqualification, restriction, or disadvantage
Now, to be honest, I prefer the term “differently-abled” but I had to admit those definitions are accurate for myself and for millions.  It is a disadvantage sometimes when I am restricted or limited by the residual symptoms of my TBI.  It’s not like it’s some big hairy thing.  I just do certain things differently in order to get around my challenges. 
But what I realized is that the words and their definitions are not the problem.  The perceptions we’ve hung on the words are. 
I use the terms disabled and handicapped freely.  I use them without shame or apology.  They are accurate, given the actual definitions.
What I hope is that people will see this disabled, handicapped person as the successful, capable, independent, smart, talented, skinny person I am.  Well, OK, not so skinny just yet…
I remember I was speaking at a conference and a woman stood up during the Q and A and pretty much blasted me for using the term “victim” in my book.   The victim of a traumatic brain injury.   I didn’t even recall the term was in the book at that time and I apologized because it didn’t sound like me.  I don’t use the term either.  It wasn’t until later that I realized it wasn’t even me who put the term in there.  An editor at the time had.
But the woman was indignant and quite proud of herself to “put me in my place” because the perception of “victim” is weak and unattractive. 
It bothered me and I looked up the word when I got home.  I was surprised to find that the term is derived from the Latin word meaning “to sacrifice.”   Simply to sacrifice.  And yet, we have turned it into such a horrible meaning.  A changed meaning from the intended one. 
I’ve been called a lot worse than handicapped and disabled, I’m sure.  So I’m not going to shy away from terms that accurately describe facets of me.  Disabled doesn’t mean anything bad, less valuable, less intelligent, less capable, less lovable, less anything.  It means I’m limited by an impediment of some kind and that’s true.  There’s nothing weak, shameful, or embarrassing about it.  Or me.
So I didn’t pursue the writing job.  Didn’t feel right to me.  I’ve got four jobs already and I probably need to be working more on the “skinny” adjective anyway.  
Hopefully those of us who are disabled and handicapped are working every day to change the perception of the word by living lives that show how incredibly far we can go and how remarkably high we can soar and how ridiculously successful we can become,  given that we’re limited by an impediment of some kind. 
Rock this life!!


  1. I found your blog after my neuropsychologist recommended your book to me. I’ve not yet read it, but I plan to, as soon as I can find a new copy I can afford. In the interim, I love what I’m reading on this blog, and I thank you for sharing your insight to this topic I knew little about until it affected me personally. I chose to comment on this particular post because it was posted on the first birthday I had post-injury, four months after someone ran a red light and changed my life forever. I don’t remember my birthday of 2009, but I remember 2010, which helps me look to March 19, 2011, when I will, hopefully, remember even more. Thanks again for sharing your words with us. I feel like I’m a new member to a club I never knew existed. Sincerely, Vanessa

    Comment by Vanessa — February 11, 2011 @ 3:15 pm | Reply

    • Welcome, Vanessa. Yes, this is a club you probably never knew or wanted to join but we are many and we are cheering for you. Happy Birthday coming up. Glad you made it and I wish you continued success in your recovery! Kara

      Comment by karaswanson — February 15, 2011 @ 1:54 pm | Reply

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