Cancer, abuse, AIDS, SIDS, autism, and disability.  Two of these things don’t fit with the others.  But why?  Why don’t they fit?  My thesis advisor asked me to try and figure it out for my thesis.  Why don’t autism and disability fit with the rest?  They are considered disorders, diseases, or impairments, so what makes them different?

I was talking with the keynote speaker at GPACW 2015 on Saturday after I had presented. We were talking about person-first language and we got to talking about cancer.  I pointed out that we don’t say, “Cancerous person” because that sounds negative.  But she expertly pointed out that “many survivors of cancer call themselves ‘cancer survivors.'”

That’s it!  It is something that doesn’t kill you.  Surviving cancer becomes a part of your identity just as autism and disability becomes a part of your identity.  That’s the difference.  Abuse, cancer, and the likes can kill you, but surviving cancer cannot kill you nor will autism or disability.

Some could point out here that disability can cause death, but I would say that it is more than likely that society is the one that causes the death.  If you have a person with epilepsy (Would identity-first language be epileptic person here?) who is driving goes into a seizure from a biker in front of them having flashing red lights on the back of their bike and they crash and die, that is not the epilepsy that killed them.  It was society’s refusal to accommodate for different ways of being.

So, where does cancer, abuse, SIDS, and AIDS separate from disability and autism?  It separates at survival rates.  Yeah, cool!


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