Healthy, good, acceptable, desirable, and so on


For me, there are loosely two definitions for normal. One is the statistical definition, “of or pertaining to the norm; average.” There is no moral judgment implied – it is merely a statement of statistical fact.

The other definition of normal is one that implies a moral judgment. That definition is a more colloquial, social definition that tends to equate normal with concepts such as healthy, good, acceptable, desirable, and so on. This second definition of normal tends to be applied to people rather than traits. Because this second definition is so harmful to people and their sense of well-being, I choose not to use the word normal, even as it is defined in the first paragraph, due to the potential for misunderstanding and harm.

I believe disability is normal but I see that society does not feel the same way. Disabled people are worthy, acceptable, desirable, capable – definitely, as a group, no less than non-disabled people.  My ideas about disability follow what is called the Social-Relational Model of Disability. This model says that there are two aspects to disability: there is impairment which is a “barrier to doing.” The other aspect is disability which is a “barrier to being.” So I do believe that a lot of what holds me back in life is disability —people judging me unfairly and refusing to allow me opportunities or offer me accommodations that would allow me to participate as an equal. But I also believe that underlying the disability are genuine impairments that inherently limit what I can and cannot do. People make my life harder, but even in a world with no people around me, I would still frequently burn my dinner due to executive function impairments that make the multi-tasking of cooking difficult for me.

I have learned to rest and sleep when my body demands it. I used to try to push through exhaustion and felt guilty and ashamed if I couldn’t do what normal people do every day. That is another oppression of the word normal is that it can lead people to push their bodies beyond healthy limits. Now I do not listen to people who say that it is lazy to sleep more than 8 hours in a day or that it is lazy to sleep until noon and I sleep when my body tells me it needs to sleep. As a result, I am much healthier and happier and have fewer hospitalizations and can think more clearly.

— Sparrow

Theoretical Models

  • Semiotics — Sparrow talks about the various ways in which we (science, individuals, collectives) use the word ‘normal.’
  • Personhood — “This second definition of normal tends to be applied to people rather than traits.”
  • Stigma Theory — Sparrow believes that the perceptions held by others negatively affect her experience in the world.
  • Life Cycle Theory — At this point in time, Sparrow is choosing a ‘travelling’ lifestyle that allows her fullest expression of her life and health.
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