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Something that came up today in a comment thread on another website was the use of “disabled” versus “handicapped” in the public discourse. There were those that argued in favour of “handicapped”, because they felt that “disabled”, with its literal meaning of lacking in an ability, was more insulting than handicapped.

I don’t fall into this party, as a person with a disability. Let me explain why. Etymologists, feel free to correct me if I am wrong, but I believe the origins of the word “handicapped” came from the phrase “cap in hand”, to describe disabled beggars who had to depend on alms to make a living, owing to the lack of accommodations and equipment which would have given disabled people equal access in the workplace.

With the history of that use and origin in mind, when I think of the word “handicapped”, it connotates helplessness, poverty, and being forced to beg in order to eke out a living. That is not positive to me, in any sense.

By contrast, “disabled”, is simply and acknowledgement of the truth, I lack certain abilities which other people take for granted, because my brain and body work differently. Since society was not modeled with people like me in mind, it means I am going to face barriers, unless someone takes note of its inhibiting my equal participation and seeks to remedy it. “Disabled” doesn’t have a negative connotation to me, it’s just being honest with myself about what areas are not my principal strengths.

Feel free to disagree however, and by all means, tell me whether you call yourself disabled, handicapped, crippled, or whatever else strikes you as the best way to describe yourself.