I think this post will require a little bit of background information about me. For the last four years I have been in graduate school studying physical activity and people with disabilities. Now, I remember when I started graduate school learning terms like “person-first language” and found myself being much more aware of how I address and talk about people with disabilities. For instance, my friend who has spina bifida is not “in a wheelchair” she “uses a wheelchair”. The guy at the grocery store who bags my groceries has an intellectual disability, he’s not mentally retarded. Recently my new favorite is that parking spaces and seats in the theater are not “handicapped” they are “accessible.”
Now here’s why I’m blogging about this. I don’t have a disability, so I don’t know how it feels to have someone say that a person with a spinal cord injury is “confined to a wheelchair” versus “uses a wheelchair.” Many of the wheelchair athletes I work with freely refer to me as “an AB” (able-bodied person) and to each other as “quads” or “paras” and sometimes when I know somebody well enough I’ll say “he’s a quad” as a quick description, but really I don’t know what’s correct and if I’m offending anyone, since I certainly don’t mean to.
Here’s why I think this question is worth pondering. I’m not one to raise conflict most of the time, and really unless somebody says something that is very offensive about or to a person with a disability, I don’t usually correct someone who says that a patient is “confined to a wheelchair” when really they “use a wheelchair” but I wonder if I should. Especially when I’m listening to presentations by prominent physicians (who I think should know better, really).
What do you think? If you have a disability, how do you feel when someone says something that’s not person-first language or politically correct?
I’d like to have your input! Let’s start the conversation!
Here are some links to first person language: