A Rose by any Other Name . . .?

My mother contracted polio when she was an adolescent, leading to very little use in her left leg for the rest of her life. She describes herself as a ‘polio sufferer’ and, more broadly, ‘disabled’. The word she always hated having applied to her when she was younger was, ‘cripple.’

I am currently part of the team working on a collaborative research project between Open Theatre Company, changing cultures, and Communicate2u, funded by Arts Connect West Midlands.

Our aim is to gather information to enable us to map current provision and awareness of work with and for young people with learning disabilities, in the arts, in the Birmingham area.

Having collated this information, we will be holding a day long ‘Summit’, to share our findings and draw up the “4in5 Manifesto” – an action plan to redress the current position where 4 in 5 young people with learning disabilities find themselves without an avenue to contribute to society, on completing their education.

Although times have changed a great deal since my mother’s childhood, the issue of language and disability is still a thorny one.

At TEDx Warwick, Sir Philip Craven made it clear that he has no truck with, “the ‘D’ word”, using instead, ‘Impairment’ – and I know he’s not alone in this.

There is debate around whether ‘Learning Disability’ is more accurate than, ‘Learning Difficulty’ . . .  what either of these terms really mean and what conditions or challenges they cover. Consensus is hard to find across the board.

Does it matter?

I call to mind being at a conference-type event with a friend of mine who is a wheelchair user, and overhearing him being asked something along the lines of, “Well, I’m never sure . . I mean, how do you describe yourself? Is it okay to say ‘disabled’? And then what about me – am I ‘abled’, or ‘normal’ or what?”

To which my friend replied, ” Yes, it’s okay to say ‘disabled’, I think of myself as ‘disabled’, and I think of you as, ‘not disabled  . . . . . . yet’!”

He has a point.

When I lived in London, there was a very large piece of graffiti local to my flat which read “CRIPPLE’S LIB !” It made my mother laugh.

I can’t give an opinion here really, except, I suppose, it concerns me if anxiety wins out over contact and communication (and humour!) – as it can also do in relation to race, religion, culture, gender, sexual proclivity, even age. Perhaps the most important thing is to focus on the communication, and the people – us – we’ll sort it out between us.


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