Careful what you say! Disability Awareness

I’ve decided to write what I call an emergency write up, as something has been brought to my attention and I need to get it off my chest. As a major advocate for disability awareness, I wish to share my thoughts on it. A story was recently brought to my attention by a lady on Instagram who told her story of a public speaker who repetitively misused words on stage, such as ADHD and dyslexia. “I’m so dyslexic!”, “I’m like someone with ADHD.” she’d say. Words which shouldn’t be thrown around as though they are terms similar to “daft!” & “silly!”

These are not just words at the end of the day. These are labels which are thrown around lightly by those with little knowledge of what a disability is. A disability is an impairment which may be cognitive, intellectual, mental, physical, sensory or developmental, or in some cases, a combination of these. Disability is an umbrella term, which covers a ray of issues one may face. We do not choose to have a disability. We are born with them. Some may develop a disability over time, after an accident, or perhaps with age. I believe within reason, some people misuse words like so, as they have little knowledge of disabilities or may not know anyone with a disability. I’m here to (hopefully) give a little insight towards this issue, in hope that people will leave with a better understanding of what a disability is, and how important it is to respect those around you. At the end of the day, using derogatory terms where you shouldn’t could impact a person or the people around you.

I truly respect those with disabilities and those who advocate for disability awareness. As someone with family and friends suffering from all kinds of disabilities, I believe that it is important to choose your words wisely, with the respect of those around you. You may think it is funny to call someone Dyspraxic or Autistic when they aren’t. It’s not funny. It’s never funny. I have a friend who was once told that they resembled someone with autism. Weeks passed and they asked me “Do I show characteristics of someone with autism or something?” I was in disbelief that they felt the need to ask such a thing, but it showed me that they were impacted by one persons’ words. One person, who obviously didn’t understand what autism was. Autism is a developmental disorder characterised by difficulties with social interaction and communication, and by restricted and repetitive behaviour. If you do not know the background of a disability, research it before you misuse it jokingly. You do not know who you may offend.

In my last year of university, I worked with Enactus Ireland and founded a program called Le Chéile, which is aimed at young students in secondary school, to teach them about disabilities within the classroom. I have a close relative who suffers from dyspraxia, which is a developmental coordination disorder. I saw the difficulties she faced in school. Students seem to lack an understanding when they see classmates acting and behaving differently to what they consider to be normal. But what is normal?! Aren’t we all weird in our own little way? The aim of this workshop is to educate students on different disabilities, to hopefully improve their knowledge so they can recognise a disability and show respect towards it. Lots of students deal with common learning difficulties, but are treated differently because they work at a different pace, or because they have a class assistant, helping them with their work. This doesn’t make them strange or weird. They’re just like everyone else, and with patience, you’d learn that they are just like anyone else you know, they have feelings, opinions and stories to tell.

I believe that the problem in this country is the lack of fundamental education towards disability recognition. There is little empathy towards those dealing with disabilities. I believe that this is the primary issue for name calling and disregard, as people aren’t being made aware. The aim of this post is to create awareness and understanding towards those who may misuse words, or mistreat others, due to their lack of understanding. I cannot imagine what it must feel like to be name called and treated differently because I act differently. We’re all humans at the end of the day, shouldn’t we respect one another, despite our differences? I do not believe that those who misuse these words are deliberate or evil, I believe that they lack an education.

Before you decide to be ignorant, bite your tongue. Acknowledge those around you. You do not know who may be affected by your words. You do not know who may or may not have a disability. You are not at liberty to abuse words which carry real meanings. Real issues. Real disabilities. Real people.

Be mindful.

A dictionary of words:

ADHD: Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is a mental disorder of neurodevelopmental type. It is characterised by difficulty paying attention, excessive activities or difficulty controlling behaviour.

Autism: Autism is a developmental disorder characterised by difficulties with social interaction and communication, and by restricted and repetitive behaviour.

Aspergers: Asperger’s syndrome is an autism-spectrum disorder that causes development delays, primarily in the areas of socialization and communication. 

Bipolar Disorder: This condition is a major depressive disorder (MDD). MDDs are ongoing and stem from a biochemical imbalance in the brain. Bipolar can impact your mood to change on- going.

Dyslexia: Dyslexia, also known as a reading disorder, is characterised as difficulty with reading despite being intelligent.

Dyspraxia: This is a chronic neurological disorder. It is also known to affect planning of movement and co-ordination as a result of brain messages not being accurately transmitted to the body. Impairments in skilled motor movements per a child’s chronological age interfere with activities of daily living.

Dyscalculia: Maths is a major area of concern when it comes to learning disabilities. While difficulty with reading can affect a student’s ability in maths, some students also suffer from dyscalculia, which is a disorder that specifically affects one’s mathematical capabilities.

Dysgraphia: While reading disabilities receive the most attention, writing disabilities can be equally difficult to overcome. These disabilities are known as dysgraphia. Dysgraphia can be related to the physical act of writing.

These are just a short list of various disabilities that are common, and commonly misused. Below I have liked a greater list of common disabilities, both physical, mental, and medical.

Disability List