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If you’re not Disabled…

Enabled people are actively enabled by a society that is designed for them. 

Disabled people are actively disabled by a society that is designed to exclude them. 

Disabled is a neutral term, because disability is a natural variant within humanity. And yet, becoming disabled is often treated as the worst-case scenario… So, where does disability get its bad reputation from? I think the answer can be found in the attitudes surrounding disabled people, attitudes that are upheld by the language we use. 

The language we use holds power. It changes how we are treated- and how we treat others. Nicknames imply friendliness, Surnames imply formality. Depending on the context of the situation, words are used to patronise, objectify, or insult one another. But they also allow us to compliment, respect, and encourage each other! This is the power of language.

We need a better term to describe people who aren’t disabled because the words we currently use aren’t accurate. ‘able-bodied,’ ‘normal,’ ‘abled,’ and ‘non-disabled’ are out of date terms because they don’t adequately explain the experience of living without a disability.

One problem with using a term like ‘able-bodied’ as the opposite of disabled is that it implies that disabled people do not have able bodies, which is not true for a variety of reasons. Disability is not always physical and those 

 physical disabilities still have able bodies because ‘able’ is a subjective and multi-faceted term! 

Using the term non-disabled to describe people who are not disabled seems to make more sense. The double negative subverts our expectations by implying disabled is the norm which is thought provoking. However, I still prefer not to use this term. For one thing, the opposite of disabled is not non-disabled. It’s not a black and white thing that you are or are not, there is nuance in being disabled, because there is nuance in being human. You can be temporarily disabled, or be impacted by disability if you are a carer, parent, or partner of a disabled person, which deeply impacts how you interact with the world. Therefore, your experience as someone without a disability is not always ‘non-disabled’.

Disabled isn’t something we inherently are. Yet disabled is used as a descriptor, an adjective, when actually ‘disable’ is not an adjective or a descriptor, it is a verb. The experience of being disabled is just that, an experience shaped by the external forces of our current society. In a different society with more acceptance, more accessibility, more funding for healthcare and mobility aids and medications, many of us would not be DISabled. And similarly, if you are not disabled, that does not mean you are able. ??? We are ALL able, you cannot be more or less able, because we all have different abilities. Some people have incredible ability to write, draw, cook, calculate, others don’t. Disabled people are ABLE but they are very much disabled FROM doing certain things, which is why I believe the term we need to use for people who are not disabled is not ‘non-disabled’ or ‘able-bodied’ or ‘normal’… the term should be ‘enabled’. A verb. To enable someone to do something. 

Enabled people are actively enabled by a society that is designed for them. 

Disabled people are actively disabled by a society that is designed to exclude them. 

So let’s change the language we use! Enabled also allows room for the people within the disability community who are enabled to see the world through our eyes, because they love, care for, and know someone who is disabled. Enabled is inclusive language for the parents, friends, partners, and workers who know some of the intricacies of disabled life. 

Enabled also encapsulates the experience of people who are enabled by society to avoid the issues disabled people are forced to struggle with every day. You are not able just because you can climb stairs, or don’t notice the uneven surfaces or the overwhelming bright lights and intense noise. You are enabled to ignore these things that are obstacles for other people because of the way our society is structured. Stairs are the norm, not ramps or lifts, cobblestones and wonky paving are the norm, not smooth surfaces. Shops install bright lighting to make their products look good without a second thought for the seizure, migraine or sensory overload it might trigger. 

The reason I use the term ‘Enabled people’ instead of any other term, is because it includes the experience of people who may not be disabled themselves but whose lives are still impacted by disability. In this sense, there are two categories of enabled people: those who are enabled to empathise and understand the disabled experience and those who are enabled to ignore disabled people and their experiences.

Disabled people are not less able, and we don’t have different or special or extra needs because everybody has different needs! The difference is that enabled people’s needs are already met. Disability is not about the medical, or the personal; it’s about the structure of our society. A society that is designed to either DISable or ENable. 

So please, let’s not use terms like non-disabled, able-bodied, normal, abled… because they aren’t helpful, they are divisive. They contribute to the idea that disabled people are not able, they increase the stigma around disability as an identity, and they add to the stereotype that disabled people are worth less.

If you’re not disabled, you’re enabled.

So let’s use enabled instead! Because it’s the most inclusive and accurate description. 

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