Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Labels are for clothes

By Timothy Redd
Timothy Redd
Handicap, crippled, disabled, special needs, handicapable, differently-abled, and wheelchair bound are a few of the labels I have been defined by the course of my 37 years of life. One of my good friends called me handicapable and I let him. I’d appreciate if he did not. 

I’ve seen people call themselves handicapped, wheelchair bound, and even crippled.  All of this got me thinking how I would define myself. The ADA defines a person with a disability as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.

First let me say the terms cripple and handicap are extremely offensive. The word cripple refers to a person unable to walk through illness or disability, it’s derived from two Old English words crypel and crÄ“opel and is recorded in Lindisfarne Gospels dating back to 950 AD Old English. 

The term handicapped is a term that rose and fell with the 20th century. It arrived on the scene in the late 1800s as a way to talk about a range of disadvantages — one could be economically, socially or even morally handicapped by circumstances. The term originated at the racetrack, where a horse that was stronger, faster, or otherwise superior in some way could be given a handicap (a weight, a longer distance, a later start) to equalize the chances of the competitors. Initially, parties to such matches concurred to the conditions of the handicap by placing their hands into a cap and either pulling out or leaving cash stakes they had placed there. This conception of “hand in cap” is where the word first emanated from. 

Handicap commenced to be applied to physical and mental differences in the early 1900's, when the fields of sociology and social work began visually examining people in terms of their place in society holistically. What had been visually perceived previously as individual failings or imperfections were recast as disadvantages with respect to larger contexts.
When I hear the term cripple I think about Tiny Tim in Charles Dicken’s, “A Christmas Carol,” a story for me that evokes pity. That is something I don’t need or want from people. 

When I hear handicapped, I think of the standard parking sign. The man depicted in the image is all rigid and appears glued to the chair that in no way reflects me. I remember, when I was in school, I was grouped in with the students from the special education class at lunch because I used a wheelchair, even though I took regular courses.

We live in a society where there is a label for everyone and everything. What I find most aggravating is that we often are not seen as people but rather our disability. It can be extremely difficult to feel comfortable with yourself when you have to fight against the idea that something is wrong with you. 

These days I feel I am fine because this is how I was born, and my disability is my norm. It has always been here.  When it comes to how I identify, I identify as Tim, that’s my name. Yes I can’t walk and it does limit me in some ways but it’s not the complete summation of my total being. I am a man, son, brother, uncle, friend, and so much more. I wish people would see me for my humanity and not label or see me as a diagnosis. Fighting against that is exhausting sometimes. Labels are for clothes and I’m fine without any.  How do you identify?