• A handicap is an inability to accomplish something one might want to do, that most others are able to accomplish. For example, reading, walking, catching a ball, communicating or able to secure4 employment.
• A disability is an inability to execute some class of movements, or pick up sensory information of some sort, or perform some cognitive function that typical unimpaired humans are able to execute or pick up or perform. A disability may be physical, cognitive, mental, sensory, emotional, and developmental or some combination of these.
• A disability may be the cause of a handicap. For example, if a person has a disability that prevents them from being able to move their legs, it may result in a handicap in driving.9
However, a person with a disability is not necessarily handicapped. One of our colleagues, Dr. Mark Swerdloff, has coped with the challenges of having had a bilateral, above the knee amputation and has ambulated using a wheelchair since his first days of dental school training. He is a Board Certified Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon, who has been honored repeatedly for his teaching prowess, patient care, and an array of accomplishments. There have been times when we have forgotten that he is a person with a disability.
SO WHAT ABOUT WORDS?
Words can express the love and devotion between individuals; between parents and children; even adherence to a cause which enhances the lives of others. But words also can inflame hatred, sorrow, anguish, untold destitution and misery. Whether intentionality or unintended, when it comes to referring to individuals with disabilities, words can become the proverbial salt that is rubbed into a wound.
In past periods, individuals with disabilities “did not exist” (they were secreted in institutions, lived in back rooms of homes, were not mainstreamed in our schools or the massive numbers of aged with increasing proportions with disabilities did not live into their 80s, 90s and beyond). We paid limited attention to their concerns. That was then; this is now:
• In 2013, 1 in 5 adults (> 18 years), 53 million people in the United States, had a disability, with state-level estimates ranging from 16.4% in Minnesota to 31.5% in Alabama.
• The most common functional disability type was mobility disability – defined as serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs – reported by 1 in 8 adults. Although any person can have a disability at any point in life, disability was more commonly reported by:
• Black Non-Hispanic and Hispanic adults: 29.0% of black non-Hispanic adults and 25.9% of Hispanic adults compared to 20.6% of white non-Hispanic adults.
• Women aged 18 years or older: 24.4% of women, compared to 19.8% of men
• Older adults: Over a third of people 65 years or older reported a disability.10
Nevertheless, children continue to taunt their contemporaries with disabilities; adults may do the same, (intentionally or unintentionally) but with a more subtle command of the language.
Does one give up on telling the story? Never! There is another critical ability that words have; they explain, they teach and eventually they make progress. In past decades, who would have thought that individuals with disabilities would be educated in community schools, be employed in a wide range of occupations, be seen in movies, shop in our stores and carry out lives similar to the general residents in our towns and cities?
“But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.”
– Colossians:3:8 •
ABOUT THE AUTHORS:
H. Barry Waldman, DDS, MPH, PhD
– Distinguished Teaching Professor, Department of General Dentistry at Stony Brook University, NY; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Steven P. Perlman, DDS, MScD, DHL (Hon) is Global Clinical Director, Special Olympics, Special Smiles and Clinical Professor of Pediatric Dentistry, The Boston University Goldman School of Dental Medicine, Private pediatric dentistry practice – Lynn MA.
Rick Rader, MD is Director, Morton J. Kent Habilitation Center Orange Grove, Chattanooga TN, and Editor in Chief of EP Magazine.
Misha Garey, DDS is Director of Dental Services at the Orange Grove Center.
4. Diament M. Obama Signs Bill Replacing ‘Mental Retardation’ With ‘Intellectual Disability.’ Web site:
9. Diffen – English Language, Grammar, Words. Handicapped vs. Disabled. Web site: diffen.com Accessed July 31, 2015.
10. Courtney-Long EA, Carroll DD, Zhang QC, et al. Prevalence of disability and disability type among adults — United States, 2013. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, July 31, 2015; 64(29):777-783/.