One of those topics was a five-year federal spending freeze. President Obama stated this was a necessary action to reduce the gargantuan federal deficit. Rolled into this proclamation, however, was an ostensible command to stop hacking human services funding, including disability programs, out of state and federal budgets. Specifically, President Obama said “This freeze will require painful cuts and I’m willing to eliminate whatever we can honestly afford to do without. But let’s make sure we’re not doing it on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens.” In light of so many recent cuts this is great news, right?!
Not totally. Some folks in the disability community take umbrage with having this mantle hoisted upon us. The President’s phrasing, using the word “vulnerable,” makes it sound as though we are more likely to come to harm than our peers without disabilities when really much of the vulnerability comes from the assumption that a disability is a weakness. Worse, individuals with disabilities must often voluntarily assume this label to be seen as eligible for services, essentially having to say “I’m weak, and I need help.” This is problematic because it can lead to the idea that the government’s responsibility to plan for services and accommodations for people with disabilities is tantamount to charity.
So, we say subtly shift the language! Here at JJ’s List, we like to preach “Person-First Language,” so say it with me: people with disabilities are not vulnerable, human services programming is; especially when it is characterized as unnecessary coddling rather than an essential responsibility of the government!