We often hear the phrase disabled or physically challenged used to refer to a variety of physical conditions, but many of us don’t really know what these words mean or why we use them.
A disability is simply a deviation from the societal norm. In layman’s terms, this means that the person is different from the average in one way or another. In reality, almost no one is normal, there is simply a range. People with disability are simply farther away from the average than others.
Disability can be used to describe a whole variety of conditions, including those that are physically different, mentally different, those with injuries, those with certain illnesses, those that were simply born that way, and a whole slew of other conditions. It can even refer to those that are missing one of their senses. It’s a very broad term used to talk about anyone that is significantly different in some way.
Often physically challenged is used interchangeably with the term disabled. Physically challenged is usually used to distinguish those who are physically different from everyone else rather than mentally disabled. It is most commonly used to people who are missing or unable to properly use their arms or legs rather than those that are missing a sense. While they can have slightly different meanings, physically challenged, disabled, and handicapped are often used interchangeably.
Even though they are a part of most people’s everyday language, terms like physically challenged and disabled are considered to be out of date terms because they don’t reflect the true situation. We often equate disabilities with being challenged or disadvantaged some way, but for someone with a disability, the world is simply built to accommodate a different type of person. While some may see it as their life being harder, really they simply have to do things in a different way.
Someone who is left-handed has to do things slightly differently from people who are right-handed, simply because the world is built to accommodate people who are right-handed. People in wheelchairs just have to do things differently because the world around them is built for people who can walk. They may require different tools to assist them, but they are able to function normally.
These groups have been fighting to change the common words used by people to describe them. They have chosen words that try to reflect the fact that they are not disadvantaged, just different. The most common term being used today is differently-abled. This doesn’t have negative connotations like other terms may.
If you are unsure when speaking to someone, you can always politely ask. Try to stay away from negative language that might belittle the person. This is especially important in children.