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Thursday, December 18, 2014

People with disabilities aren’t ‘disabled people’

Editor’s note: This letter is in response to the article “UNM to add more automatic doors,” published in Thursday’s Daily Lobo. The article described changes being made on campus to improve accessibility for people with disabilities. In one instance the article referred to students with disabilities as “disabled students.” This was an error, as the Daily Lobo’s policy is to use the “people with disabilities” construction.

Editor,

I applaud the Daily Lobo’s focus on accessibility issues, evidenced by your front page article about the plan to increase automatic doors on campus. I write mostly, though, to encourage the editorial staff to adopt a different policy with regard to the use of the term “disabled.”  

There is something inherently demeaning in referring to a person as disabled, and it is much more respectful to refer to a person with a disability as a person with a disability. Though when first being asked to make this distinction, to many it seems to be a humorous or overly quarrelsome request, I ask you simply to consider this: If you had a disease, would you want to be referred to as a person with a disease, or as a diseased person? If a family member battled with cancer, would you want to hear them described as a person with cancer, or as a cancerous person?

These are nuanced points, but this is the exact kind of nuance of language that should be an editor’s joy to discern. We live in an age when people with disabilities are overcoming the burden of unfair discrimination and with access to universities and the workplace showing that they are people who can contribute as much, if not more, than others who do not struggle with the same difficulties.  

People with disabilities are people, not disabled people, and they deserve to be afforded the same dignity as others. I know that this is a very fine point, and the tone of this letter is not meant to be scolding. It is only meant to be enlightening, provoke thought and encourage discussion.

Sean Murphy
UNM student