Disability through first-hands perspectives

     What follows is a selection of definitions of the term “disability” written by students who contributed to my research on disabilities at AUC. While a technical understanding of disability may allow one to expand their vision and act more effectively on the related issues, it is close to my heart to give a voice to those who experience disability in their daily lives. In addition to portraying the relationships between the person and their condition(s), those texts underline the importance of the medical and social norms established in one’s environment when defining disability. I hope that their perspectives on the disabilities and health conditions explored in this handbook will shed light on the realities that arise from them in different areas of life.


     “[Disability is a] culturally constructed concept that places non-normative bodies on the side-lines due to a perceived decreased ability to function fully in society, and thus disability is less about an actual lack of ability to function, and more about how space, sociality and mentality are constructed in a certain society. For example, in terms of a physical disability that requires someone to be in a wheelchair, it is their lack of ability to walk that is considered a disability; however, if the objective is moving from A to B, and the only thing preventing a person in a wheelchair to make this move is the absence of a ramp or elevator, their disability would technically no longer be a disability if that ramp or elevator is installed, as they are now just as able to move from A to B as a person who is not in a wheelchair. Yet, most would still consider that person to be disabled, as their ability to move is restricted. Disability, then, is contingent on the way we construct the world and our ideas of the world, which means that any disabled person is someone who has trouble or needs help functioning optimally in the current conditions of the society they live in.” - Merel


     “The reason I use the term “disabled’ for myself is because I consider “disabled” to be a position I am put in by the world. My “ability’ is negated by the world around me, because the world is not built for people whose brain works like mine. The world “dis-ables” me. It’s not that there is anything “un-abled” about me, in my opinion, because I just think my brain is just wired differently, but I think disabled describes my existence in the world it currently is pretty accurately. Thus, I would thus define “disability” as a position that I am put in, that is the result from the world not being built for people who don’t fit the standard physical, neuro or psychological mold.” - Bluma


     “Quite literally [disability can be] any condition, be it physical or mental, that impairs basic human function. [Do I consider myself as disabled?] Yes and no.  I know that I have a hard time with anything concerning language, but I have always viewed it more as a challenge than anything else. I love writing stories and poetry, reading, or essay writing; that will never change. I just have to make sure someone who isn’t me reads it to check it for spelling/grammar/missing words. The same goes for my extra time on tests, I know I can use it, but I always try to finish in the regular time nonetheless. The world can be unforgiving, but luckily dyslexia is a relatively forgiving disability, so I try to adapt to it to stay competitive.” - Luuk


     “I would define [disability] as having mental and/or physical divergent quality which differentiates you from most people around you. However, I feel like it only becomes a disability when the people around you, or society in general, is not able to make sure you can function as you would like and know what you are able to do in your circumstances. […]. I do [consider myself disabled]. […] many schools and workplaces do not have a good understanding of what it means to have AD(H)D and often misinterpret the symptoms for laziness or underestimate how much it can affect someone, resulting in you having more difficulties with tasks they do not even consider to be a problem for you. If they would become more adaptable, I might consider myself as different, but not per se disabled anymore.” – Anonymous


     “I think the word ‘disability’ is considered taboo, although the perception of it is changing for the better. I define disability as many different things; it can be physical or cognitive, mental or emotional. A disability simply means that the extent to which I can perform at a specific thing is hindered due to a condition out of my control, and my performance by default may or may not be as high as others. Nonetheless, it does not mean that I am worse at something than people who don’t have a disability like mine, it is just that I require different tools and pathways in order to reach the same goal or produce the same output. […] Sometimes I do feel like my disability may define my success. But I try to not let that define who I am. So, specifically for academics, sure, I have a learning disability. But as [Name], no, I am not disabled.” – Anonymous

“A disability is a condition that makes existing in the world more complicated either due to physical limitations or mental challenges. These barriers are often created by able-bodied people and could easily be overcome through more thoughtful forms of care. I do [consider myself disabled]. But I also know that I have a lot of privilege in that I encounter fewer challenges in participating in activities than many other disabled people do. Or, at least, many of my challenges are less visible.” – Anonymous


     “Disability is any chronic or long-term physical or mental condition that affects a person's ability to function in the ways expected by society (including in work, school, personal and social contexts), without accommodations. Often, a lack of accessibility is (partially) responsible for creating or exacerbating disability.” – Anonymous


     “I think ‘disability’ is a very personal term. […] it refers not only to what’s visible, but also to everything that’s hidden and yet manages to interfere in our daily lives. We have grown to be particularly sensitive to this word and with that we associate it with being different or being weaker. To me, ‘disability’ is another prime example of how our society isn’t used to or prepared for people who need more consideration and attention.” – Anonymous