Picture description: The handicap symbol (of a person in a wheelchair) with the question "Does this symbol make me look "differently abled?" written beneath it.
I have seen the term "differently abled" used time and time again in conversations with non-disabled people. I'll use the term "disabled" to refer to me and my fellow sisters and brothers PWD and, in return, the non-disabled person will refer to us as "differently abled". It's quite maddening, really. I get the impression that they do that as some attempt to be polite, so I decided to write this to explain to all my non-disabled friends and acquaintances about why "differently abled" isn't how we tend to refer to ourselves and why it simply makes them seem a bit out of touch with PWD realities when they use it.
Contrary to what you may think, many PWD see the use of "differently abled" as much more insulting than "disabled". The two terms are not interchangeable. Many non-disabled people tend to be confused about what the term "disabled" means. It doesn't have anything to do with what the PWD is actually able to do. It refers to the way that society limits certain kinds of people from being fully included within it, specifically those whose bodies are perceived as being deficient, inferior or abnormal. In fact, we all have different ways of doing things but only some of those ways of doing things are categorized as "alternative". The term "differently abled" is just another way of hierarchizing PWD lives as somehow abnormal.
The term "disabled" recognizes that the problem isn't with how our bodies work. The problem lies with how some societies are unwilling to acknowledge that every kind of body is just as normal as any other. Sign language isn't a "different" way of speaking. It's a language just like any other. Using wheelchairs isn't a "different" way of traveling. It's simply one way of getting from point A to point B.
This ends today's lesson in PWD realities. Study it all this week. You may be tested on it the next time you're in a conversation with a PWD who isn't nearly as fond of explaining this stuff as I am.