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John Register's Inspired Thought - Disability What? What?

May 15, 2013  |  John Register

See the video blog above and John's blog below:

Why do we (myself include) so flippantly throw around the word disability to describe a specific group of people?  I was reawakened to my own callous use of the word when interviewing rock star, super celeb, Paralympian, model, actress, and anything but disabled, Ms. Aimee Mullins at the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Inclusion forum in Indianapolis, IN. During the interview Aimee displayed a slide with synonyms describing the word disability.


As I looked at the slide on the monitor I was struck not only by the number of negative words that are associated with the word “disability,” but also just how many of those words were associated with in-action. 


Here are a few of the words. OBSTRUCTED, POWERLESS, BROKEN, WORN-OUT, WEAKENED, ENFEEBLED, INCAPACITATED, IMPOTENT, and BURDENED. I put those words in caps for a reason!


Here is a strange paradox.  None of these words describing the word “disability” actually describe the people I know whom have what society calls a “disability.”


I know sports figures who are Paralympians. They have travelled the world and navigated many obstacles.  I would never describe them WEAKENED.


I know actors who have honed their craft and are brilliant at what they bring to the big screen. I would not call them ENFEEBLED.


I know advocates who are on the battle lines ensuring that rights are protected for our society and I would never describe them as POWERLESS


In fact all those groups are the antithesis of the word “disabled.”


Vail Horton calls it a bunch of HANDICRAP, which is defined as “a self-imposed limiting belief.” And those who are and those who are not “disabled” shouldn’t let that get in the way of doing business or life for that matter, writes Andy Giegerich editor of the Portland Business Journal.


To accept the definition “disability” means that I accept the limitations that others place on me and thereby be defined by my “disability.” 


I find it almost comical when people define me by my physical characteristics and then associate those characteristics with my ability level.




“Hey there’s Uncle John with the robot leg.”




“You know John he’s the one with the artificial leg who walks with the limp?”


Now those two examples are pretty harmless in my opinion until they are taken to another level by ignorance that manifests itself in some type of attitudinal or physical barrier association.


If we take the second example in an employment situation we might hear something like,


“You know John, he’s the one with the artificial leg who walks with the limp? We may not want to hire him because he is an Army Veteran and is probably very upset about the loss of his leg. We just don’t need that type of attitude in our work place.”


This is more of the type of OBSTRUCTION and IGNORANCE that hurts all of us.


I also think that there is an educational component for people who have perceived societal maladies. 


We must educate “population normal” that there is nothing wrong with people who look different!  That last remark, ladies and gentleman, has nothing to do with disability. We all are different!  Thank God! We all have great gifts and great contributions to give to the world! 


And, we all want to be heard and to be valued. 


There is nothing that has to be fixed with me!  When someone tells me that they feel sorry for me because I lost my leg I believe they are saying that they wish the accident would never have happened.  And, that if there was some way to fix it they would wish that on me too! 


Well A) the accident did happen and B) there is nothing that has to be fixed on me to make me normal. I mean I am not growing a leg back. I am not a salamander.


However, I digress. What I try to do is to turn this awkward situation around and say to the person, “Don’t feel sorry for me, if I had not lost my leg I would probably never have had the pleasure of meeting you!” 


I think that is a nice way to get into a conversation about ability.


How then should society refer to people with disabilities?  Hmm, how about using their first and last name and recognizing them for the gifts they bring.


But of course I am an AMPUTEE.

But of course I am a PARALYMPIC ATHLETE.

But of course I am a HUSBAND and FATHER.


And, my name is JOHN REGISTER.

Now, go forth and inspire your world!


John Register is an inspirational speaker and dubs himself as the Inspirational Catalyst. He serves on the Board of Directors for the American Association for People with Disabilities (AAPD). You can find out more about John and how to hire him as a keynote presenter at and follow him on twitter @JFRegister




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