Monday, October 19, 2009

A Note on Terminology

wheelchair, ablist, able, disabled, language,
lauredhel at FWD/Forward frequently addresses the issue of ablist language, specifically such phraseology as "wheelchair bound" when describing people who use wheelchairs. (If you haven't checked out FWD/Forward, you should. Expand your horizons.)

People who use wheelchairs are wheelchair users, the same way you are a computer user. I know this because you're reading this blog. You're reading this blog because you can't talk to me in person. Using the same logic as "wheelchair bound", you are computer bound, which is just silly.

I understand why able people use such language. If your legs perform the task of moving you around without difficulty, being in a wheelchair does seem restrictive. "OMG- they have to spend their entire lives in that chair?! How horrible!"

If you happen to be the one who uses the wheelchair, however, the wheelchair is the opposite of restrictive. The wheelchair is, in fact, what allows you to move about and participate in life. Without the wheelchair, you'd be stuck in whatever bed or chair your last visitor left you in. That would be restrictive.

I would ask that anyone who reads this remove such terminology as "wheelchair bound" from their vocabulary, and if you see someone else using it, call them on it.


  1. Hi, PF!

    I was sad to hear that you've not been feeling well. My wife, who is a carpenter and electrician, has been off work for almost a year now with chronic back and neck pain.

    Since the injury was not work related, she recieves no subsidies. This all started about ten years ago when she and my son were hit head on by a drunk driver. They were lucky that they had their seat belts on and were in my 4x4 because they went "up onto" the car rather than a classic head on where both vehicles virtually stop on a dime, they had a bit of cusion.

    But, that started a chain of events that have plagued her ever since.

    Suffice to say that I can empathise with your condition. It definitely can suck the fun out of life.

    I don't know why your family is so unsympathetic but I have TGiving at my house every few years and it is definitely exhausting no matter how much everyone helps out. I sure wouldn't expect my wife to put on a dinner like that alone even if she was healthy.

    On reading of your condition I feel very helpless and wish there was something I could do. Offering unsolicited advice seems lame at best but don't let them push you around.

    I hope you great attitude and sense of humor help you through all this.


  2. Thanks you. Chronic pain blows. Until they come up with some way to objectively quantify pain, people like me and your wife get hosed.

  3. Thanks for this post. I am reminded of my ablist privilege and that I need to examine it more often.

  4. I'd also like to throw in a request for people (in general) to avoid assuming that handicapped means that you use a wheelchair. Yes, that is a common (and, more to the point, noticeable) type of handicap, but it's far from the only possibility. The reverse view (that if you aren't in a wheelchair, you clearly aren't "really" handicapped) is even more irritating.

  5. We had a day at Uni where about 150 of us used wheelchairs for the day to experience what it was like to move around in a 'poor-accessibility' environment. After the first hour or so of fun you start to realise how buildings and streets tend to be designed for people with the use of their legs.

    I think if the built environment were better designed there wouldn't be such a stigma attached to those with perceived 'mobility impairments'.

    There are a lot more ramps/lifts at our old Uni now and so the accessibility thing is being, slowly, dealt with, but for those of us who volunteered for the day it really impacted the way you see things.

    [speaking of seeing things... I'm a civil engineer and I was recently in a meeting with a stakeholder group who were concerned about a design we are proposing for a streetscape nearby. They're all blind. Trying to explain what a street will 'look' like and how it will work to someone without sight is a very humbling experience, I can tell you]

    I hope you get your cane, PF....and then hit idiots with it.

  6. Trying to explain what a street will 'look' like and how it will work to someone without sight is a very humbling experience, I can tell you.

    The very best student in my college Spanish classes was blind from birth. You wouldn't believe how often you end up saying "you should've seen it!" or something similar to someone who has never, and will never, see anything. As you said, it's humbling.

    That was the first time I ever realized how ablist English really is, though at the time, I didn't really have words for it.

  7. And then on the other side, you have Randall in Clerks 2....

  8. Hello PF,

    Here's the form comment about asking for a link exchange (feel free to delete it if you want, as I admit my blog is a corporate blog and very boring compared to yours):

    I came across your site from a Google alert for "wheelchair". Since my product's blog is related to this, and because Google is fond of content related links, I was hoping you'd be interested in a blogroll link exchange. This is where I link to your site, and you link to mine.

    For examples of this (under the "Blogroll" category on the right side of my blog), for more information on my product/blog, or to contact me, please visit .

    Thanks in advance for your consideration.



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