“We Abled bodied people”



A potrait of a girl painting with her feet!


I cringe each time I hear someone use that phrase in class. What does “…we abled bodied people…” imply exactly? The phrase conveys a false dichotomy that alienates any person with special needs, for whom the term is used. It also based on the tendency to overtly judge people’s capabilities from a physical standpoint. It conveys a notion of a lower expectation, I mean, after all they aren’t abled-bodied people and aren’t expected to do or see things in the same way as “we” do, right?. Just because one is physically abled, doesn’t mean one is not disabled. Technically, we are all disabled in one way or another.

“we are more disabled more by our society than by our bodies.”  These words hit me in the Ted talk by Stellar Young  (see link below) . The restrictions placed on us by various societal norms and expectations could be crippling and can be interpreted as a form of disability in itself. It is disabling because were are limited by it. When we seek freedom, we are bound by it. Therefore saying person A is able-bodied is rather simplistic, incomplete and underplays the fact that we all come with our “flaws”. The definition of a disability could be contextual, statistical or conditional because of its complexity.



This contextual definition of disability became clearer to me three weeks ago when I became temporarily disabled for days. I was down for four days with a major stomach condition and was completely knocked out; I couldn’t attend classes and could barely stand, walk or even sit. I was confined to my bed for days and barely made it to my appointments at the MIT Medical. This further made me question the notion of being abled-bodied…are we really that able-bodied? My switch from a normal to a sick state was rapid and scary. I was fine one evening and then boom! I was incapacitated for four days. This made me see disability more as a continuum; it is more about its degree and less about its kind.

Here are a few videos and blogs about people with special needs that hit my point home a bit more:  https://www.ted.com/talks/maysoon_zayid_i_got_99_problems_palsy_is_just_one

paintings by abled-bodied people:


I’ve got 99 problems and cerebral palsy is just one!  https://www.ted.com/talks/maysoon_zayid_i_got_99_problems_palsy_is_just_one

A performer with down’s syndrome:


I’ve got 99 problems and cerebral palsy is just one!


A performer with down’s syndrome:



We should think more about the implications of the terms we use  especially when such terms can alienate people or make them feel bad.There is no need to categorize people by using terms that’s based on a premise that isn’t necessarily true. Instead of saying “…we abled-bodied people think bla bla bla”, as if one has been made a spokesperson for “abled-bodied people”, use less direct terms. Also avoid speaking on-behalf of groups of people, because opinions vary on matters as complex as this. For me, people with disabilities are abled-bodied too because they can do things that I can’t even attempt. The freedictionary.com explains abled bodied as being physically fit, but suggests that a more preferred term, non-disabled, should be used.


Just a few references:





This term “we abled bodied…” was used quite often during discussion panel we had a few weeks ago.


2 thoughts on ““We Abled bodied people”

  1. Lots of interesting, compelling ideas in this post, Philip. This is also a great selection of links and videos. It’s pretty remarkable how illness can have such a powerful effect and can afflict anyone suddenly; thanks for sharing your experience.

  2. Thank you for another great post. Where else could anyone get that kind of info in such an ideal way of writing? I have a presentation next week, and I’m on the look for such information.

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