DEI Alphabet Soup: Decoded! Part II 

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Earlier this month, we started to “decode” some common terms that are used in the sphere of diversity, equity, and inclusion.  Because this field can be approached from many different angles, and there are many intersections of identity and inclusivity, we are continuing our series of posts by diving into another group of terms related to a particular theme.

Today’s theme is disability justice. These terms are related to activism surrounding the acceptance of bodies and physical abilities.

Disability: An impairment that may be cognitive, developmental, intellectual, mental, physical, sensory, or some combination of these. Disabilities may be present from birth or may occur during a person’s lifetime.

Importantly, there are two different models which can be applied to the definition of disability, which we will define below. These models can help frame discussions around accommodation, and how best to talk with others about disability in various contexts. 

Medical Model of Disability: this model regards disability as an impairment, illness, or defect, and focuses on an individualized approach to solutions or accommodations. In other words, this is a framing of a disabled person’s abilities as abnormal or detrimental, and something to be fixed or cured if possible. “The medical model often refers to a disabled person as a victim:  this can be very patronizing and offensive.”  ie: A disabled person needs to request accommodations for their disability, to be able to participate in an activity or receive a service. 

Social Justice Model of Disability: “views disability as a consequence of environmental, social and attitudinal barriers that prevent people with an impairment from a maximum participation in society.”  In other words, this model calls on folks of all abilities to re-examine and re-evaluate their views on disability, and strives to find collective solutions to accessibility. This model also focuses on creating worlds where disabled people can participate to their fullest without needing to request individual accommodations.

Now that we know what disability is, let’s check out some other terms. 

Ableism: The belief that disabled individuals are inferior to non-disabled individuals, leading to discrimination toward and oppression of individuals with disabilities and physical impairments. Ableism also takes the form discriminatory policies, failure to provide suitable accommodations, and prejudice against people with disabilities. 

Accessibility, Accessible: The extent to which a facility is readily approachable and actually usable by individuals with disabilities. Accessibility can also refer to the type of language being used (have you ever tried to read a technical article full of jargon you don’t recognize or understand?), and, in our pandemic world, how readily approachable and usable a virtual event or program is to attendees. 

Identity First Language: this generally refers to the syntax or order of words used to describe a person, where the describing word appears first. Eg. disabled person; autistic person; wheelchair-user 

Person First Language: this refers to the order of words used to describe a person, where their personhood is specified first; eg. person with a disability; person who uses a mobility aid; person with ADHD; person with autism. 

When it comes to the kind of language you should use to talk to or about someone, it is always best to ask how they refer to themselves and how they would like to be referred to. Just like when we consider others’ personal pronouns, don’t make assumptions! Some folks will prefer ID-first, others will prefer person-first. Part of practicing allyship is to ask, listen, and act in ways that support those we are allied with, in the ways they want to be supported. 

We hope that this list of terms has helped your understanding of disability and how to talk about it. Keep an eye out for our next post where we will explore more terms to broaden our intersectional justice vocabulary! Subscribe to the blog so you don’t miss out, and contact us if you want to learn more about any of these terms. 

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