Self-Declaration of Disability

At 23, I read over my medical records for the first time and discovered that 8 years prior, my doctor had referred me for an autism assessment. This referral was rejected by the man in charge without even so much as taking the time to meet me. He “wasn’t convinced”. It’s difficult not to feel resentment towards this man when I consider how different the last 8 years might have been had he given me the time and consideration I deserved. I often wonder if I had been a 15-year-old boy with these difficulties instead of a 15-year-old girl, would that have inspired him to engage in more critical thought?

Finally accessing this diagnosis has been the most truly liberating experience of my life and the person I have to thank for that, is myself. I found it, I researched it and I fought hard for it to be taken seriously. If I hadn’t, I would still be flailing around in those muddy waters, lost and alone. For the first time in my life, I understand myself and I am committed to authentically honouring my needs.

That is why, I beg you to reflect, before expressing outrage over self-declaration, or forcing your employees or colleagues through a degrading process to ‘perform’ their disability for you, just so that they can access basic support.

Critic of the Dawn by Cal Montgomery

The incantations that invoke Mary, call her up to stand between me and the world, are variations on a theme: I am the same. Bruce is banished. The incantations that invoke Bruce and banish Mary are variations on a different theme: I am different.

“Same as what?” you ask. “Different from what?” The reference point — the imaginary person around whom society is planned — is a pale and obscure figure, but those who have searched him out report that he is white, straight, nondisabled, educated, mature, moneyed, and male.

Those whose sameness to this reference point, this mythical man, has been stressed — whose struggle in his world has been blamed on choice, on moral lapse — may quite reasonably insist on their difference. “Disabled and Proud,” reads a tee-shirt. Those whose difference from him has been stressed — whose exclusion from his world has been considered justified — may quite reasonably assert their sameness. “I am not a puzzle. I am a person,” reads a button.

As different people experience disability in different ways, have it attributed to different sources, adopt different tactics for different situations, there are shifts between the campaigns of sameness and the campaigns of difference — and the disability community is shattered, broken into subcommunities with different traditions, different priorities, different dialects to explain different experiences.


“Nothing about us, without us,” says the South African slogan; without a sufficiently broad definition of us and a sufficiently reflective approach from those thinking and speaking “about us,” this slogan can be used to justify a change of regime, rather than a true revolution, for most disabled people.

Am I disabled?

I’ve come to understand that when I pass as non-disabled, when I say No, the best that I can hope to be is an inferior version of an ideal of normality that allows only for the narrowest range of body types, cognitive styles and life trajectories, that equates the worth of a person with her economic productivity, that fetishes independence and disavows our connections to each other, and that seeks to discriminate arbitrarily between those who are allowed their full humanity and those who are denied it.

Bipolar Disorder – Embracing Neurodivergence And Affirming Disability

Part of me would be more comfortable with the term ‘condition’ than ‘disorder’ because of the judgement implicit in the latter. But ‘disorder’ to me is an important acknowledgement of the havoc frequently, but not always, created by extreme manic, depressive or psychotic episodes. These states result more easily in some than in others. When and how this happens is a result of myriad dynamic, interconnected factors, some personal and biological, many of them circumstantial and social. However, my lived experience leaves me with the firm conclusion that there is an intrinsic, physiological way in which at least some people who experience mania and certain forms of depression are different from most people. That difference is not, in itself, a disorder. It’s just a difference. But it is a difference that makes those experiences more likely to happen to me than to others.

Insisting that disorders are not real (and/or that there is no congenital physiology involved) erases this difference and elides the complexity of my identity and my experience. Akiko Hart has written eloquently and comprehensively about this. It is much more useful to criticize the construct of psychiatric disorders in terms of the normative and invalidating power being deployed depending on when, how and why the term ‘disorder’ is used. Broad acceptance of a purely biomedical understanding of psychiatric disorders can condemn people to an existence defined by pathology. The construct of “personality disorder” is particularly abusive in this regard. At the same time, it is critical to recognize that some people find the term ‘disorder’ helpful and representative of aspects of our experience or even of our selves.

Bipolar disorder – embracing neurodivergence and affirming disability

The Social Model: understanding the language of disability from a cartoonists point of view

The Charitable Model understanding

Disabled people have also identified the ‘Charity Model’ of disability – taking this approach, disabled people are portrayed as weak, vulnerable and needy, relying upon charity ‘handouts’.

Many of the larger disability charities continue to perpetuate this negative image of Disabled people to the general public to encourage them to continue making donations.

Much of the charity ‘industry’ is run by non-disabled people, with many charities using a substantial portion of their income to maintain the charity itself rather than support or empower the disabled people they claim to represent.

A lot of campaigning has been undertaken by disabled people over several decades to highlight and challenge the fact that the management committees and staff teams of many of the big charities did not include the disabled people they represent. “Nothing about us without us” and “Rights not charity” have been rallying cries for the disabled people’s movement in the past.

Many disabled people believe that the struggle for civil, human and legal rights and full inclusion in society should be the focus for organisations and charities, not making ‘special’ or segregated provision or treating disabled people as in need of sympathy or care. If the public feels sorry for us, disabled people would argue, we can never be equal citizens.

The Social Model: understanding the language of disability from a cartoonists point of view

A Social Model of Neurodiversity at Work

People often ask whether autism (or another neurodivergent condition) is a disability. I’d argue that it is more helpful to ask whether autistic people are disabled (to which my answer would be: in most cases, yes). It may seem a semantic distinction, but it is important: it locates the disablement not in the autistic person’s brain, but in the society they live in and the way the individual and society interact. Autism is not our disability: it may be an impairment, a difference, or some combination. Our disability is the difficulty that arises in our interaction with the specific society in which we live.

A Social Model of Neurodiversity at Work

It’s Perfectly OK To Call A Disabled Person ‘Disabled,’ And Here’s Why

Stay clear of cutesy euphemisms like “handicapable” or “differently-abled.” Nondisabled people have taken to the terms in recent years, but they’re patronizing and tend to reinforce stereotypes about disabilities, said Amy Kavanagh, a visually impaired activist. 
“Disability is not a bad word. I was born visually impaired and was made to feel like my disability was shameful for most of my adult life,” Kavanagh said. “These kind of euphemisms made me feel like my disability was too difficult for nondisabled people to manage — that I had to minimize it and hide it for fear of causing discomfort by reminding people of my needs.”

It’s Perfectly OK To Call A Disabled Person ‘Disabled,’ And Here’s Why

On “Person-First Language”: It’s Time to Actually Put the Person First

The rule is to put the word person first, before the disability or condition, in order to emphasize that those being referred to are people first, not just diagnoses or disabilities. For example, “people with disabilities,” instead of “disabled people.”

This is a perfectly lovely general tip: When in doubt, put the word person first, particularly when referring to people with disabilities. But identity is complex—way too complex for a rule like this to work without any exceptions.

On “Person-First Language”: It’s Time to Actually Put the Person First