Disabled is not a dirty word, it's the right word

Malay Mail
Malay Mail

SEPTEMBER 20 — Twice this month I have been annoyed by local media's inability to use the word “disabled”.

There isn't anything complicated about the word; it just means someone with a disability and yet for some reason local media has found the word anathema.

One newspaper has refused to use the word disabled, instead using OKU in English headlines.

I fail to see the logic of using a Malay acronym for persons with disabilities in an English newspaper. Have I somehow fallen into an alternate reality where the English language is now replaced by Manglish?

Then I spotted another paper using, instead, “PwD man” in a headline. How repetitive is that? “Person with Disabilities man”?

What makes me wonder as well is why no one noticed or objected to those weird, nonsensical usages?

There are many words you shouldn't use to describe disabled people for instance retarded, handicapped, cripple, among others.

Some people try to use what they think are more polite descriptions such as “differently abled” or “special” or “challenged”.

I am not disabled per se but seriously, what the actual heck is “differently abled”? It sounds as though the disabled have special powers to make up for having disabilities; they aren't all like Professor X in the X-Men, you know.

It's also annoying and condescending to try and ignore the reality of disability by calling the disabled special or “challenged”.

I am challenged every day not to swear when people try too hard not to just say “disabled”.

Disability will eventually come for all of us. There's a reason why there are senior queues — your body will fall victim to entropy in time, with many of us soon either acquiring disabilities or edge closer to doing so.

I have now resorted to perching my glasses on my head to better read phone screens or do close work.

For a year after getting Covid I struggled to take the stairs, even in my own home, without getting winded and I would need to take off my mask every 15 minutes or so, while the mask mandate still existed, because I found it hard to breathe.

Having post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and seasonal affective disorder (SAD) also means I will always need to work on my coping skills, be mindful of my mental health and take extra care to get rest as well as disengage from triggering situations.

It's not always easy but I am lucky my work gives me room to accommodate my needs, even if I occasionally face triggers (violence against women, suicide).

I joke a lot that working in the media is just setting yourself up for psychic damage, but it is the reality that I am more aware than the average person about the terrible things happening not just here, but all over the world.

While I can find ways to cope, and get enough time off to decompress, being disabled is something you can't run away from or take a holiday for relief.

A disabled person is seen working on her computer. ― ETX Studio pic
A disabled person is seen working on her computer. ― ETX Studio pic

A disabled person is seen working on her computer. ― ETX Studio pic

It's tough enough being a disabled person without the media being unable to understand that you don't need to be coddled, talked down to or fear walking on eggshells around you.

Just say “disabled”. See them as people who just happen to have a disability, who might need accommodations and who desire a world more accessible not just for them, but for anyone, really.

As I write this, I must also remember my friend Peter Tan, who passed away on September 23, two years ago.

I miss his fire, his indignance, his candour about living with a disability.

I wish I could tell him how grateful I am that he worked so hard to help people understand that a person isn't their disability, that at the heart of it we are all just people, with different struggles and obstacles to face just getting by.

Please respect disabled people by just calling them disabled, even if they are your children (I'm sorry ma'am calling your paraplegic child special doesn't make anything better), and understand it's not an insult, it's just a statement of fact.

Use OKU when you're writing or speaking in Malay and PwD only if your newspaper insists headlines must be shorter than the average Malaysian's attention span.

Don't blame political correctness for ignorance and just do the right thing by saying the right word — disabled.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.