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Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation Blog, September 4, 2019: “The Beauty of Choosing Our Words”

The term “inter-abled” is a new word for me. Until reading a recent Reeve blog, this was a word I had not read or overheard in casual conversation. As an avid reader my entire life and high school English teacher for 22 years, I actually love learning new words, and once I know them, I can make the choice about whether or not to use them. I explain to my new crop of students each year that having words we learn and own to choose from is empowering. We make choices daily about how we say something to someone else, and those choices help to build the people we grow into.

What I love about the world we live in is that we have the choice to employ the words we like. As a couple, Geoff and I have the same feelings about the term “differently-abled” instead of “disabled;” if “differently-abled” empowers other people and makes a positive difference in their lives, then, by all means, they should use it as it applies to them. But Geoff has never had a problem identifying as a disabled person. Therefore, we use the word “disabled,” when we have to use it. The label does not change the man he is or the person he has grown into since the snowmobile accident which left him paralyzed almost 25 years ago. He works in the field of adaptive sports. While at any given outing or sports event, he may have 10 families participating with wide-ranging versions of how they “identify” as disabled, differently-abled, etc.

We understand the term “inter-abled” to include an able-bodied and disabled partner. When I shared the article with my husband because I found their love story to be both incredibly moving and interesting, he responded with just one question, “Why do they need the label of an inter-abled couple?” This had us discussing where the level of demarcation resides. I love reading other Reeve blogs for the shared and different experiences. If I’m blind, does that make us inter-abled? If I lost my leg? My arm? My hearing? My memory? If I have CP or MS or Lyme Disease or COPD or breast cancer and my partner doesn’t, are we “inter-abled?” Maybe. Maybe not.

This got me thinking more about words, and just because I’m a teacher doesn’t mean I know them all. So before deciding the word did not work for me, I did a casual poll of other people I know who work with or around others with physical disabilities. One friend, like me, is married to someone with a spinal cord injury and she shared, “Cool, if they prefer that term to describe their relationship– or it helps them to communicate their story more clearly for others to learn from– awesome. But it’s not a word I want to use. I just have my husband. We are married. It’s a loving relationship– with or without his disability.”

There was a time when it was important for people to identify “gay marriage” as separate from “just marriage.”Or even the term “same-sex marriage” labels a specific kind of relationship. Or when we had to label “interracial marriage” as a way of re-affirming that marrying someone of a different race from one’s own was legal and acceptable as it always should have been from the beginning of time. However, even up until the 70s in some places in America marrying outside one’s race was socially impermissible if not completely illegal depending on where one lived.

I guess what I’m trying to say without hurting anyone’s feelings is that the word “inter-abled” may work for others, but it doesn’t, won’t, can’t work for us currently. We aren’t made anymore or any less special because of his mobility impairment and my walking ability. We are in a loving relationship which may follow a unique line of co-dependence akin to the symbiotic partnerships found in nature. So maybe that’s the “inter” part of inter-abled. Maybe the term will grow on me, and maybe it won’t. For now, we will continue to grow older as a couple, a pair who loves each other, bickers from time to time, depends on the other for different things, laughs a lot, adventures with our family and friends, and still tries to find quiet moments of peace.

Heather Ehrman Krill is a writer- wife- teacher-mom who lives in the White Mountains of NH with her husband, Geoff, a paraplegic and professional skier, and their two children, Carver and Greta who are 9 and 7. Please check out her novel <i “=””>True North, website www.heatherkrill.com, author FB page Heather Krill, and @heatherkrill1 on Twitter.

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