Changing the Perception and Conversation Around Disability: Sarah Todd Hammer


Hammer, a patient advocate living with acute flaccid myelitis, discussed the language around neurologic disability, and how the conversations should shift going forward. [WATCH TIME: 4 minutes]

WATCH TIME: 4 minutes

"Many individuals of my generation and around my age group are comfortable using the term "disabled" as well, and it's becoming more progressive. On the other hand, there are terms like "differently abled" or "handi-capable" that are generally disliked as they can come across as condescending and patronizing."

There are several rare neuroimmune disorders, one of which is acute flaccid myelitis (AFM), a type of inflammation in the spinal cord with distinct clinical and MRI features. The predominant presentation is a rapid onset of weakness within hours to a few days that may affect the limbs, face, and the muscles the control breathing and/or swallowing. Weakness in AFM varies greatly, ranging from mild to very severe.

Over the past several decades, the field of neurology has shifted from a diagnostic specialty to a therapeutic one. With advances in medicine and a greater awareness from the general public, the conversation around disability has shifted. Sarah Todd Hammer, a 21-year-old college student living with AFM, has felt as though disability is an integral part of her identity, and that it’s not something she would change, nor want to change at this point. Hammer has become a disability advocate within the community, publishing several books on her experience and the conversation around disability.

In an interview with NeurologyLive®, Hammer provided context on the factors both clinicians and the general public should consider when discussing disability. She spoke on certain language that patients prefer, outdated terms that shouldn’t be used, and the impact advocacy organizations can have for patients who may feel uncomfortable or embarrassed about their diagnosis.

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