I was at a training recently learning about language and communication. Someone in the group asked a question. When she spoke, she said something about someone being “wheelchair bound.” I cringed a little when she said it. No one else around me seemed to notice.
After the conversation, a leader in the group said something about her saying “wheelchair bound.” He explained why he doesn’t like the term. While he was talking, several people whispered, “Did someone say that?” I said yes.
It really made me think. Most of the people in the room were professionals. They all work with people with disabilities.
I’m a parent. I have a child with a disability. He uses a wheelchair. I wasn’t offended by what she said, but I did take notice. I thought it was interesting that the people around me didn’t think anything of her saying “wheelchair bound.”
I don’t like the term “wheelchair bound” for the same reasons the leader of the group doesn’t like it. The term implies that a person is confined to the chair; that the chair holds them back.
But it’s quite the opposite. My son’s wheelchair gives him the freedom to move. He’s able to go where he wants because of his wheelchair. It doesn’t bind him. Rather, it frees him.
When I’m in these types of situations, I almost always say something. I choose to educate those around me. I think words are important. I think words can empower. I also think words can hurt.
Disability isn’t a bad thing. I choose not to use words that portray disability in a negative light. Many people with a disability and their loved ones prefer to use People-First Language.
People-First Language puts the person before the disability. A person is not their disability. So instead of saying my son is “wheelchair-bound,” I say that my son “uses a wheelchair.”
Do you use People-First Language when talking about your child? If not, try it out. It can really help you change your perspective and outlook.
Here are a few great resources if you need some help:
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