Friday, July 16, 2010

Journalists: Stop Writing "Wheelchair Bound"

Journalists are supposed to be professional wordsmiths. They are trained to write well and are paid to know what to say and what not to say.

So, why do I keep reading articles using the words "wheelchair bound" to describe a wheelchair user?

I am not so much interested in politically correct terminology. I slip up like everyone else from time to time.

But journalists should be held to a higher standard. Journalists should understand proper rules of grammar, writing and etiquette. However, if you do a search of Google News for recent articles using the term "Wheelchair Bound" you will find hundreds of recent articles using this out-dated terminology.

Six years ago Julia Kite complained to the editorial staff of her student newspaper about how the term "wheelchair bound" could get through the editorial process.

Julia wrote:

I assume that other writers, as well as the editors, looked over this piece before it went to press, yet am I to believe that not one of them wondered if referring to two students as "wheelchair-bound" would be both inaccurate and potentially offensive?

And

This newspaper would never dream of using the terms 'Negro' or 'Israelite'. Those words are just as outdated, and just as offensive, as 'wheelchair-bound'.

But even writers from so-called quality news sources still use this outdated expression, including journalists from Huffington Post, ABC News, Fox News, Time and BBC. This list could go on and on.

What is so wrong with the term? As Wikipedia clearly explains ""Wheelchair-bound" for someone who uses a wheelchair is unacceptable because of the word "bound" being used in it, which is akin to slavery's chains. "Wheelchair user" or "person who uses a wheelchair" is preferred, referring to the wheelchair as a tool rather than an entrapment."

A wheelchair user is not "bound" to their wheelchair. There are no chains or shackles binding the wheelchair user. A wheelchair gives freedom to a wheelchair user. A wheelchair gives mobility and allows many wheelchair users to live high quality lives. But most importantly, the term "wheelchair bound" is simply paternalistic. It is a way of talking down about a wheelchair user.

If society's professional writers can't get the message then what hope is there for the rest of us? Next time you read the term "wheelchair bound" in a news article, forward the journalist a link to this blog post. Maybe they will get the message.

2 comments:

  1. I also dislike the phrase "in-a-wheelchair" (all one word) - it seems to go with the territory of ABs (Able Bodieds) not grasping the concept of the part-time wheelchair user. To them, you're either "in-a-wheelchair" or "not-in-a-wheelchair" and they give you funny looks if you get up and pull it up steps, or even if you move your feet while using it! When you do this, they think you are a fraud. It's all part of the same scenario of thinking that disability = wheelchairs, when many people with disabilities don't need to use wheelchairs.

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  2. When people use that term I say "how silly, you wouldn't describe yourself as "shoe bound"! lol

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