Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Disabled

I have written many letters to the Times regarding their use of the term “the disabled” which is one of my pet-peeves. These letters have come to no avail. Last night, while speaking to my husband Jim, I realized why this terminology gets to me. As with “The Blacks,” “The gays,” or “The Jews,” this terminology takes a group of people and lumps them all together for convenience (or laziness) sake based on one quality. This is very dehumanizing and inaccurate.

Let’s pick on “the gays” for a moment. One on end, you’ve got the guys on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. On the other end, there’s my dear friend who loves ice hockey, has never decorated anything, and dresses like a homeless Vassar student. What do these men have in common? Precious little!

When it comes to “the disabled” the terminology gets even more bizarre and diluted. When one writes “the disabled” what does he/she mean? Do they mean CP, MS, deafness, depression, autism, blindness or paralysis? I would even argue that HIV, epilepsy, cancer, and being a Republican are disabilities. Why not be specific? If someone is referring to a problem with a lack of curb-cuts, why not call those affected “people who use wheelchairs.” I mean I’m disabled and I never use a curb-cut and I doubt people with autism have trouble with them either.

That said, ironically, I am adamantly against the politically correct movement. I view such as some people making up words such as “differently abled” that they don’t really buy into just to make themselves feel better or superior. But, I do think that writers (especially those in the Times!) have a responsibility to examine the language in detail and, most important, to say what they mean.

1 comment:

Steven Fama said...

Labeling diverse individuals under one label (e.g., "the disabled") should be avoided..

However, you miss the mark a bit when you write, "If someone is referring to a problem with a lack of curb-cuts, why not call those affected 'people who use wheelchairs.'"

People who use canes are also intended beneficiaries of curb cuts, as are others who do not use an assistive device but have an impairment that makes it difficult to get around. So probably the better way to refer to people affected by a lack of curb cut is, "people who have a mobility impairment." That's maybe more of a mouthful, but I think it's the only accurate way to say it.

The term "the disabled" is often used as a shorthand for "individuals with disabilities" when the subject being discussed includes all persons with disabilities. For example, when discussing the federal ADA law, many smiply say it establishes rights for the disabled, instead of "individuals with a disability." Importantly, however, the official text of the federal law does not use the shortcut.