Wednesday, March 14, 2012

HAITI :: Disabled vs. Handicapped

Miele and Kelly

Caucasian vs. White, African American vs. Black, Hispanic vs. Latina, Disabled vs. Handicapped; semantics are at the root of this discussion and it is the ‘powers that be’ who decide the vernacular for the masses. In the United States there exists handicap parking as well as the American Disability Act. These words are interchangeable in conversation, however I believe them to mean two very different things.  

While attending the first Camp Jake for disabled children, I brought to the table that I [personally] do not like the word disabled. I am a 37-year-old below knee amputee who holds a full time job, travels the world, creates art, dances, kayaks, gardens, spends time with family and friends and considers herself an able-bodied woman, not disabled. I know I am handicapped because I need my prosthetic to help me walk. If I do not have the prosthetic on, I need the aid of my wheelchair, walker or crutches, each of which entitle me to the label of ‘handicapped’.  

Synonyms for handicap are hinder, impede, or incapacitate. This is true for those that need a device to help them function in daily life. Synonyms for disability are debilitate, disqualify, and ruin. These words, in my opinion, tend to hold a person down more mentally than their needs might hold them down physically. While certain words overlap, and meanings can ebb and flow, personally it boils down to dis = not + ability means Not Able To (insert activity here).  

Not all those who have extra physical challenges agree with my belief, which is why I know this was a personal disclaimer that I made at camp. I have had this discussion with an AKA (above knee amputee) and she prefers the word disabled. I have seen people who are considered ‘disabled’ be ignored or thought of as less than human. 

While working for Camp Jake, I was approached numerous times by Haitians on vacation that said thank you for what you are doing. One man in particular stands out in my head. This man was having breakfast before attending a wedding on the beach. He now lives in the States but is from Haiti. He looked at me over his omelet and said “Thank you, I know what my people do to those you are helping.”

If you see someone in a wheel chair, don’t think they need help being pushed. They are not thinking you need help moving your legs. If you see someone who is different than you, don’t stare, ask questions, strike up a conversation. We are more alike than we are different. The one label we all share is human.  

Always remember, "An invisible red thread connects those destined to meet, regardless of time, place, or circumstances. The thread may stretch or tangle, but never break." - Ancient Chinese Proverb

~ Kelly Andrews 2012

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