Is it time for DSS to take a new name?

By in Opinions

Disability Services for Students is an advocacy body at the University of Saskatchewan that aims to provide accommodation for students who have learning and medical difficulties in an effort to remove barriers and improve access to higher education.

As discourse begins to shift on the limiting and perhaps problematic nature of the term “disability,” it may be time for DSS to start looking for another name.

DSS is an invaluable service, and it’s about more than ability.

What is wrong with the word disability?

First, the very nature of the word disabled is negative. Dis, a Latin prefix meaning “apart” or “away,” is used in English to indicate negation and difference. The word disability also assumes a normal, “able” opposite and centres the discussion of barriers faced by those with disabilities on difference.

Unfortunately, there is no real consensus on an alternative term. “Differently abled” gets used a lot, though it still places emphasis on difference. “Human variation” is another more inclusive alternative.

Secondly, disability is a social problem, not an individual one. In a world where people with disabilities do not face structural barriers to their success, they are not disabled. When a person in a wheelchair utilizes a ramp, they are enabled, not disabled. Barriers can be either physical, attitudinal or organizational.

A physical barrier would be an elevated door without a ramp for wheelchair access or a gymnasium exam with hundreds of distractions for those with ADHD.

Attitudinal barriers occur where disability is seen as a burden — for example, jealousy of someone being granted extra time on a final.

Organizational barriers occur when, in response to a need for accommodation, nothing is done —  like a professor refusing to grant an extension or receive late assignments.

DSS is centred on empowering students in these situations, so shouldn’t their name reflect that over the students ability?

Lastly, many people who utilize the services that DSS offers do not identify as disabled. For example, many people who have anxiety and/or depression do not view themselves as “disabled,” despite being qualified for DSS accommodation. We’re asking students to take on disability as a label, so students who do not identify as such may not utilize services aimed at improving their learning outcomes.

At the U of S, students of varying ability face many different barriers to their success. Asserting the term “disability” as an official label can be harmful and counterproductive. DSS is an invaluable tool for taking down these barriers, but perhaps carrying a name that contributes to that reality is something worth considering.

Liam Delparte

Photo:  Michaela DeMong

  • Gary

    I don’t necessarily disagree with the article but could you please propose a few solid alternatives when complaining about something as trivial as a program name? Acknowledging marginal issues without proposing at least one concrete alternative solution isn’t exactly helpful.

    • Ashley

      They are renaming themselves to Access and Equity Services.

  • Crystal

    I’m curious as to how the writer can conclude that “many people who have anxiety and/or depression do not view themselves as “disabled,” despite being qualified for DSS accommodation”. Did the writer interview people with these mental illnesses? Or is this an assumption? Because I have generalized anxiety disorder, and I most definitely consider myself disabled. A lot of people don’t AGREE that I am disabled, as they think “everyone is anxious” and I got that vibe from this article. I’m sure this was not the intent, but it sounds like it was an assumption that was made, as it didn’t say “For example, according to many of the students interviewed, those with anxiety/depression often do not consider themselves as disabled”. This would have been better choice wording. If the writer did not conduct interviews, it is a hurtful assumption that invalidates those of us with mental illness; which we really do not need any more of.

    • Guest

      Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think a disability refers to a significant limitation in one’s ability to carry out the activities of daily living. Some people diagnosed with mild depression or anxiety do not experience much impairment, so may not consider themselves disabled even if they could qualify for DSS accommodation. And it’s not just people with mental illnesses. Many deaf people, for example, do not consider themselves disabled and reject cochlear implants.

  • Maddy

    Hello. I suffer from generalized anxiety, social phobia, obsessive compulsive disorder, depression, and attention deficit disorder. They are disabilities. I have used DSS in the past. It takes a lot of nerve to trivialize the suffering I have endured and the hard work I have had to put in to become successful in my life. And why? So you can be politically correct? Give me a break. Having a disability doesn’t make you less of a person. “Disability” is not a bad word, and treating it like it is is an insult to people who suffer from disabilities.

    • Alfons Muir

      I completely agree! I hate it when people dance around the term disability, as if not being able to do things society expects me to do is shameful. Yes, disability is socially constructed, but so are gender and sexuality! If someone is jealous of disabled students getting accommodations or sees disability as a burden, that is the fault of their own ableism, not the term disability. DSS needs to spread awareness and education on accessibility, not change their name.

  • The Oatmeal Savage