Saturday, January 28, 2017


It may seem a small and petty thing. Even knowing that it probably is small and petty, however, doesn't make the feeling go away. We were leaving the movie theatre and when we went to the elevator it was broken down. No panic, we know they have service elevators in the back as this has happened before. We approached a staff who radioed someone telling them of the situation, a voice crackled through saying, "You can take the wheelchair and the other guests down the staff elevator."

Did you notice what what said?

The wheelchair and the other guests.

The fellow, a nice guy himself, given permission started leading us over to the elevator while saying "I can take you all down." I stayed put. He looked back at me questioningly. I said, "I'm not sure what I am supposed to do?" He explained that the elevator would take us down. I said, "But what am I supposed to do? Wait here?"

He was lost.

"Well, you're taking the wheelchair and the other guests. What about me? Do I wait here?"

Realization dawns on his face.

"No, no, he meant that all of you could come down."

"But he said, 'the wheelchair and other guests.'"

He was pretty quick on his feet, "Well, that's what he said, I said we could all go down together." He's right, he did say that. We went down.

We went down.

Not "the wheelchair and other guests."

This doesn't happen often, but when it does it irks me. I feel invisiblized, which is a word that doesn't exist but it should, people with disabilities and those in other minorities will understand it's meaning instinctively.

"Petty and over concerned with language from people who don't mean anything by it." I know that's what will be said. But the fact that you don't place meaning on your words doesn't mean it's not there. Ever think of that?


ABEhrhardt said...

All he had to say was, "You can take THE GUEST IN THE WHEELCHAIR and the other guests..." for it to be all right.

You were right to make the point. You don't have wheels - your chair does.

Hope that got passed on and up to the people in charge, and then back down to everyone.

We can fix the world one small bit at a time, but only if things stay fixed and get better. Having to fight the same battles over and over and over is exhausting.

Unknown said...

Language describes our experiences and shapes them, and as we use words we are defining every sensation, event, and question in our minds..and then we 'believe' what we have said. This process is usually done without much reflection or conscious choice - although you, Dave, are a wonderful exception to the 'usual' and have taught many of us to keep paying attention to the ways that 'words hurt'.
Not oversensitive at all, but perceptive and expressive. I'm glad that the helper did understand when you repeated your question. A teaching moment that may ripple outward...I hope.

Unknown said...

We had a bus driver once refer to my son as "the wheelchair"... "I'm picking up the wheelchair first..." I asked him when he would pick up my son. He didn't get it either. I told him that my son is NOT a piece of equipment... he is NOT "the wheelchair". He is the kid who USES a wheelchair. BIG difference.

Frank_V said...

Words really do matter. Note to to able-bodied people, use your words better! If you are not sure, GET A DICTIONARY AND THESAURUS, and learn to use them.

Andrea Shettle, MSW said...

Frank V, the problem with your suggestion (in your final sentence) is that most mainstream dictionaries and thesauruses don't always do well with disability-related language. They don't always accurately indicate which word choices are (or aren't) actually offensive to us. And they aren't necessarily designed to help people understand the nuance of meaning in entire phrases or sentences, only in individual words: the word "wheelchair" in and of itself is not offensive (and thus won't be marked as such in a dictionary), it only becomes objectionable when the word is used as a substitute for referring to a person.

I too want to see non-disabled people learn better phrasing that avoids dehumanizing people. It's just that a dictionary or thesaurus may not be the most helpful tools for this particular endeavor.

Minding Time said...

It's weird. For me a wheelchair means a thing, not a person. That's literally part of the definition, so I feel like a dictionary would be helpful if there is confusion on this point. People don't like to be called things.