As I've written, I'm distancing myself from the word "disability". But I need a word that can do some of the same things, and so I picked one that people used: "chumbado".
In calling someone "chumbado", I'm trying to isolate certain physical characteristics. My favourite definition of "chumbado" is that of a foot that doesn't leave the floor, and this is a limited but suggestive description of the corporalities I encountered.
All the people I call "chumbado" are physically disabled. But I might call someone not-chumbado who also has a physical disability, perhaps one that I don't know about.
Júlia, one of the group of friends that did swimming together, is the word's chief ambassador. "I can't bring myself to use another word", she tells me. She has to explain it to people, too: and she explains it as "something that went wrong", a word that's less "heavy" than "disabled". Not lifting one's foot off the floor is being "literally chumbado".
Similar to when Júlia talks about something going "wrong", the people I met routinely used ideas of aspects of their bodies being or getting "better" or "worse". I accept this, but in a limited way. I'm happy to say that an arm is better or worse, stronger or weaker than another: but I wouldn't be happy to say that being chumbado is better or worse than not being chumbado.
Using "chumbado" is a way of incorporating the "something that went wrong" while at the same time avoiding categories that block off explorations of the ways it might connect with other factors. I am using this definition to leave me free to see the different ways being "chumbado" plays a part in corporalities: ways that do not limit themselves to being "disabled".
I should finish by commenting briefly on this word's place in Brazilian Portuguese and its use by the people I met. "Chumbado" is a word that's used in many ways in slang in Brazil. "Chumbo" is lead, in Portuguese, and by extension, something heavy. "Chumbado" has, among others, colloquial uses of being (temporarily) under the weather, or drunk. I am taking a very specific usage from the people I met and some of the groups I am in. But not everyone who I met knows this word, and of those that know of it some actively dislike it.
Post modified Wednesday, 9 March 2011.