Do you think before you stick labels onto people? Not everyone whom you see as disabled may identify as such. Oda Skasgeth, who is a ‘tad dyslexic’, expresses her displeasure at being categorised as a disabled student for having a learning difficulty that has both been a challenge and a source of pride for her.
You got mail:
And it says you are disabled.
As a social psychology student I should probably not be surprised by the power of words and definitions. But when I, for the first time in my life, was labelled disabled, it was in some sense a life changing experience. Many firsts are life changing only because they are just that; firsts. But others are special because they make you think.
When I got an email prior to my arrival at the LSE addressing me as a disabled student it made me laugh hysterically and I called my mother to tell her that she had a disabled daughter. We thought the idea was hilarious. At this point some people might misunderstand where I am going with this and even feel a bit offended, but bear with me and please trust me when I say that is not my intention.
You see, I have always thought of myself as just a ‘tad dyslexic’. So for me being put in a category just generally labelled disabled was very weird and actually quite funny. I guess I thought it was a joke. I didn’t think that disabled was a word one could or would use to describe me. But apparently I was wrong.
After the initial laughter silenced, I started to reflect on what this actually meant, and I realised that this was a gesture from very well-meaning people at the LSE, but it made me feel really bad. Their attention made me feel like something which I do not wish to be.
It was maybe not so much about being disabled or not, but it is the right to define what you are yourself. If you are not disabled, there is really no need to be defined in this instance, but when someone sticks on the label ‘disabled’ you are suddenly supposed to be something, a part of a challenged group which requires assistance. Something someone else has defined, which you have very little power to resist or challenge.
Relating this back to the idea of social identity, the power someone has to define you and put you in a category can feel quite like abuse. For me, my disability, or challenge as I prefer to call it, has been a source of both pride and frustration. Pride because I have in many ways overcome the challenges of dyslexia and developed more or less functional coping strategies. Frustration because it has not always been easy, especially not worrying about being perceived as a sloppy writer who doesn’t put the effort in (I admit that could sometime be the case, but most of the time it isn’t).
People who are different are defined not by what they are, but by what they are not, what they lack. I for myself do not want others to define me in this way. I want them to see me for the things I am: someone who has worked very hard to get where she is, like everyone else at the LSE.
I think that for me the term disabled comes with too much baggage for me to accept that as part of my identity. It is not me. I might have a learning disability, but I ‘am not that disability’. Try to spell dyslexia; you know that it isn’t a dyslexic person who has come up with that concept and I refuse to let that somebody put me in a box, whichever box that might be.
Oda Skagseth is an MSc Student in Health, Community and Development at the Faculty of Social Psychology, LSE. She holds a Bachelors degree in Psychology from the University of Bergen. Being so fortunate to be born in Norway, one of the highest ranking countries in terms of Human Development Index, Oda developed a passion for social justice issues and equality. Her interest in disability stems from her experience of being diagnosed as a dyslectic at 17, and the realisation of how this can be a source of both positive and negative ‘identity’.