Caregivers Corner: Changing the conversation around disability

Nicole M. Clagett Image
Tuesday, February 28, 2023

If you are a caregiver for someone with a disability, likely you are all too familiar with its related roadblocks. But have you experienced discrimination, or "ableism"? Duke physician Dr. Christopher Lunsford explains ableism as a preferential - but not necessarily intentional - treatment of people without disabilities over those with disabilities. In healthcare, this can create additional setbacks in getting the care your loved one needs.

Notes Dr. Lunsford, "People...don't want to say the word disability, because of the societal negative assumptions about disability. That's the opposite of what we want. Disability is a normal part of human existence."

A disability, or any impairment that makes activities and interactions more difficult, can increase the challenges of a caregiver. As a caregiver to someone with a disability, how can you continue to provide for your loved one while also changing negative perceptions? Here are a few suggestions for changing your own conversation about disability:

  • Recognize that disability is one form of diversity. When framed in such a way, people may tend to embrace our human differences rather than shy away from them, much like they do with people of different ethnicities, ages, or genders.
  • Acknowledge that language and terminology can be complicated and ever-changing. Ask your loved one about their preferred terminology (e.g., "person with disabilities" or "disabled person" but not "handicapable," "differently abled" or "physically challenged" unless those are your loved one's preferred terms).
  • Take the stigma out of disability, without ignoring its existence. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in four adults (nearly 83 million people) in the United States has some type of disability, which can range from difficulty in bathing or dressing to serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs.

March is Disability Awareness Month. If you're interested in disability advocacy work, join Dr. Lunsford's scholarly yet informal group that meets every two to four weeks, Disability Consciousness in Healthcare.

Caregivers, get connected with other caregivers for valuable support and resources. These resources are available at no charge: ABC11's Caregivers Corner Facebook group, access to Duke Health's 2022 virtual caregivers event, and this ABC11's Caregivers Corner website.