Abled, Disabled, or Differently Abled?

I have to admit, I came into the OT program thinking that I knew the “right” way, the “respectful” way to talk about people with disabilities. I would’ve cringed if I had read or heard the third sentence below; and likely rolled my eyes or fumed inside about inappropriate language.

“Nathan is a 5-year old boy with autism. He attends OT twice a week.”

“Nathan is an autistic boy who attends OT twice a week. He is 5 years old…”

“Nathan is a 5-year old boy who attends OT twice a week. He is differently abled.”

I had learned in one of my classes that person-first language is more respectful to our clients as it allows for the person to be defined by other factors (eg. age, interests, strengths) before being defined by their disability. It made sense. I internalized it. And I took it for granted.

Our professor instilled self-doubt on the first day of classes. She said that she would use person-first language …but that there was a heavy debate on the matter. She also made sure to point out how clients of this class introduced their disability and themselves. Some chose to point out several facts about themselves before bringing up their disability, and others laid out their disability right after their name.

My daughter doesn’t have ‘special’ needs. She’s disabled. This is an eye-opening article written by a mother of child with autism. In brief, the article makes a case for her child’s needs not being “special” at all and rather basic and ordinary. The mother also shares that autism has set her child’s life on a certain trajectory and has become an integral part of the child’s identity.

It seems that we are trending towards euphemisms to replace words we consider ugly…moving from “handicapped” to “disabled” to “with disability” to “differently abled”. But with time, the new words can also become somewhat ugly. (more…)

Giving a Voice to Children Who Don’t Have One

What follows is Vi Ma’s perspective about the 8th Edition of the Edith Aston-McCrimmon Lecture Series 2017 with guest speaker Dr. Tom Chau, PhD, PEng

As a future health care professional, I often think to myself,  How will I help patients as best as possible?  It never occurred to me that our contribution as physiotherapists can be more than simply providing one-on-one or hands-on assessment, education and treatment. I have recently learned that we can go further, and help, by working with other disciplines such as engineering. Together, we can create assistive devices to meet the needs of the patients we treat.

I first learned of our greater role with disability through technology when Dr. Stefanie Blain-Moraes presented the topic in one of my undergraduate classes. She spoke of the rewards and barriers of working on assistive devices. I was captivated by how she spoke of challenging our perception of disability and encouraging us to think outside the box. I was hooked. In our classes, we got to design our own assistive design in collaboration with a client.

Vi Ma, Physical Therapy Student, and Dr. Tom Chau, PEng Edith Aston-McCrimmon Lecture 2017

This year, Dr. Tom Chau was the School’s Edith Aston-McCrimmon Lecturer. He presented his innovative research on designing devices for children who are unable to communicate in conventional ways. The children, trapped in their bodies have no means of expressing themselves. Needless to say this affects their socialization and overall development.

Dr. Chau’s team has developed many communication devices that detect muscle activation, brain activity or vibrations of the vocal cords. His presentation incorporated clips of children overjoyed when they communicated for the first time with these devices and of the parents’ emotional response. I was deeply moved and may or may not have had tears at the corner of my eyes. I hope to have such an impact on my future patients and their families.

One of the main challenges that Dr. Chau underlines while designing technology is the wide range of the children’s diseases and conditions. With so many individual situations, each with their own unique conditions and experiences, no one device can solve all problems; there is always room to imagine and create new devices.

So, what can we do going forward? (more…)

Blog authors are solely responsible for the content of the blogs listed in the directory. Neither the content of these blogs, nor the links to other web sites, are screened, approved, reviewed or endorsed by McGill University. The text and other material on these blogs are the opinion of the specific author and are not statements of advice, opinion, or information of McGill.