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The D word

Updated: Aug 30, 2023

A navy blue sign with white text that reads 'Boots, Less Abled Parking', with a wheelchair user logo underneath.

Recently, one of our members reached out to share a sign they had seen in the car park of a Boots store. It read ‘Less Abled Parking’. They found the avoidance of the word disability demeaning and it had made them feel like Boots were calling them “less than”.

Upon reading the email, I got the impression Boots had good intentions but had not consulted with many disabled people on the wording before rolling out the signage.


“Less-abled”, “differently-abled”, “handi-capable” and “special’ are some of the euphemistic terms that have been used to describe disability. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to how we choose to self-identity as disabled people, so right and wrong are meaningless notions here. But what is it about the word ‘disabled’ that makes people feel uncomfortable?

I’ll preface this by saying I am Disabled. Flowery euphemistic language around disability makes me uncomfortable. Most disabled people I know also prefer ‘disabled’. It conveys information meaningfully in situations I have no choice but to navigate as a disabled person in a society not designed with me in mind. 'Disabled' also says something of my shared identity and history with other disabled people.

Firstly, ‘disabled’ is not a slur. It is neutrally descriptive, not a pejorative term. It’s not a comment on a person’s morality, how rich their life is, or their value to society.

On a pale green background scattered with pale pinky peach, medium green and pale green stars,  a pale pinky peach rectangular box in the centre with bold black text that reads 'Disabled is not a pejorative term'.

Using euphemisms might feel like the right choice as a parent who understands their child is going to face more challenges in life than their non-disabled peers. It may appear bolstering and empowering, but how might the child’s intrinsic self-worth be affected if they later ask the question ‘why didn’t you want to call me disabled? Is there something wrong with being disabled?’.

Why does it feel right to distance them from disability? What beliefs about disability have negative connotations in your mind? Could you be projecting your own beliefs onto others without having the necessary lived experience to verify their accuracy? Could your child, instead, derive pride from embracing their achievements within the context of their disability?

On a pale pinky peach background, scattered with pale greeny brown and pale green stars, and a green rectangular box across the centre. Within the central box are the words 'what is it about the word disabled that makes people feel uncomfortable?' in bold black text.

Denial of of disability is not a helpful approach in a world that systemically disadvantages the disabled population. Being disabled by societal barriers is, for most disabled people, a harsh reality we can't pretend doesn't exist. We have no choice but to navigate an inaccessible and ableist world, in which we are constantly expected to prove that we’re disabled (and in what ways, and to what extent) just to access goods and services.

We cannot transform a flight of stairs into a ramp by beating around the bush and we cannot alter the perspective of a potential employer, who believes disabled people are lazy, by simply rolling up in a wheelchair and saying “I know you think I am disabled but I’m actually handi-capable!”.

Also, identifying as ‘disabled’ doesn’t automatically erase a person’s capacity to do a given task, so over-emphasising a person’s abilities with these euphemistic terms feels OTT. There is a whole world of tools and adaptations disabled people use to obtain independence. Things may take longer or look different, but you can be simultaneously disabled and able to do a bunch of stuff specific to your life and the many nuances of your disability!

On a pale green background, with yellow crosses, medium green and medium purple circles and ovals swirled around the graphic in an almost galactic shape, with a pale peachy pink rectangular box in the centre. In the box are the words 'Adapting to your situation doesn't negate your disability' in bold black text.

Plus, by not claiming 'disabled' as an identity, people may miss out on the eclectic, interesting global community of disabled people that exists. I know I'm not alone in finding people I consider good friends through our shared disablement. We root for one another... and that is a beautiful thing.

Identity is complex and I will always support a person-centred approach to it, relating to disability status and every other type of identity. We are the arbiters of our own identities. But I encourage those who are uncomfortable with the word 'disabled' to reflect on why it is they feel that way.

Arianne Brown

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Well said…Disability and being aware of your own disability is one thing, then to relay it to another in a manner that is honest and straightforward in our language set, that sets a disabled person apart for the myriad of disablement/s….,

boots beating about the bush…, with respect to the word Disabled. maybe they should have , consulted the coproducation team.., I definitely believe thy Should have done.

the rephrasimg or muddying the waters of disablement in society which makes me saddened; personally

I feel downgrades us all.., like rebranding us, or trying to sweep a significant marginalised People to the non existence that many are accustomed to living…, which is albeit a little if not a lot a moral!


Shaun McGarry
Shaun McGarry
Apr 13, 2023

The word Disabled is a powerful word and full of nuances! I visually disabled .. i am hearing disabled .. but I am a fully functioning human being who enjoys life to my best abilities. The word Disabled is not a black and white term but full of colour. Full of meaning. Don't be scare of it. Maybe Boots should use the word "Exceptional Parking" instead!

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