Ability is a Spectrum

October 7, 2020 By Amy Green

I can play the piano. 

How much does this statement tell you about me? Not much. It might mean that I am physically capable of pressing the keys down to produce a sound. Or, I might be trying to tell you that I am a concert pianist who has mastered all of Bach’s concertos. Or it could mean any number of things in between those two extremes. 

What it happens to mean, in my case, is that I took a few years of piano lessons as a child, and I can still hammer out Für Elise or the Pachelbel Canon in C. Muscle memory is a mysterious and powerful force, but I can’t play either song in a manner that anyone would enjoy listening to.

What I hope I’ve illustrated with my analysis of the statement, “I can play the piano,” is that ability is a spectrum.

Ability is not a binary. It is not a flip of a switch. So then, why do we label people as “disabled” as if the disability switch in their brain or body is permanently stuck in the on position?

Disability is a Spectrum

We all have strengths and weaknesses. No two people will ever have the same degree of ability in all circumstances. These differences in our abilities are what make games, sports, trivia, and other competitions fun. We can’t predict how our abilities may interact with and compare to other people’s abilities in differing circumstances. In many ways we appreciate this spectrum.

So, why have we developed this label of “disabled?”

It may be because people refuse to help one another and consider each other’s needs until they are compelled to do so. Having a term we can use to designate when accommodation are required has become necessary.

How disappointing. Especially because most people are so kind and helpful on an individual basis, but in groups we tend to become selfish.  How well do you think it would work if we removed all handicap parking designations and simply asked everyone to only park as close to a building as they actually needed to park given their personal abilities? 

And so, I’m glad the term “disability” can help everyone get the assistance they need. I wish it didn’t come with the baggage that somehow people who label themselves as disabled are fundamentally different from people who don’t use that term. We all have a range of abilities.

As we design a video game specifically for children with SMA, we are focused on making a game that everyone can play. We are convinced that fun can be shared across the ability spectrum. Choosing to consider everyone no matter where they fall on the ability spectrum for button pushing, or motor control, or response time is important to us. And we don’t think our consideration will mean the resulting play will be any less satisfying. 

That’s why we’re passionate about the Playability Initiative; it helps us love and consider each other in new ways and look beyond the labels that limit our appreciation for one another. So, we named this initiative “Playability.” We want to focus on everyone’s ability to play – not preconceived notions on what constitutes disability. We are committed to considering how people on a wide spectrum of ability can all play together and we’d love for you to join us in the conversation about how to consider each other well and participate in making play accessible to everybody.