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Some say with a disability, I say disabled

June 11, 2014

Diego Mariscal, a YIDA intern from Mexico who is wearing a red shirtBy Diego Mariscal

Diego Mariscal is one of eight participants in the 2014 Youth in International Development and Affairs (YIDA) internship program. He and other YIDA interns will be writing a series of blog posts about their experiences with the YIDA program this summer, to be posted at this blog.  USICD coordinates the YIDA intenship program, which brings a cohort of students and recent graduates with disabilities to Washington, DC, each summer to complete internships at various international organizations in the Washington, DC, area. Diego Mariscal is completing his internship at the Inter-American Development BankLearn more about the YIDA internship program at Read Diego Mariscal’s biography, and the biography of other YIDA interns in the summer 2014 program, at The views and opinions expressed at this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of USICD.

Moving bags, shopping for groceries, and finding the right metro stop were all important tasks that made up my first week at the YIDA program. A unique aspect of my week was receiving an email from Mark Engman from the U.S. Fund for UNICEF after I made a comment at his presentation during YIDA training and orientation week. The email from Mark Engman (directed to the YIDA program director) reads:

“I would like to ask if Diego could expound further on his thoughts regarding the theme ‘See the child before the disability’ that was part of UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children launch last year.  It would be worth sharing with UNICEF colleagues who focus on UNICEF’s policies and programs that address children with disabilities.”

I will utilize this platform to elaborate on this.

“See the child, before the disability” is a language based campaign generated as part of the “person first” movement after the ADA in 1990. The idea behind this movement is to refer to the disability community as “Persons with disabilities” instead of “Disabled”. Why? Because an individual as a whole, as a unique person, is not disabled (less-abled). The disability community is made up of people (first) who just happen to have a disability as one of their characteristics. Pretty reasonable argument wouldn’t you say?

As a person with a disability myself, I strongly disagree with this perspective. Detaching the person form the disability completely delegitimizes the value and appreciation of any disability. When we talk about other minority groups: African Americans, Latinos, or LGBT, we refer to them with their identity name. No one says “Persons WITH black skin” or “Persons WITH Hispanic heritage” or “Persons WITH different sexual orientations”. Why does the disability community have to be any different? It doesn’t, what needs to be different is the perception towards the word “Disability”.

Language has power, and if we use it in the right way a community of one billion people will learn to have pride of their disability: see it as a trait and not a limitation.

My suggestion to Mark would be: “see the child, and appreciate the disability”.

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