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  • Writer's pictureAbove & Beyond With U

Words Matter

Updated: Apr 17, 2023

The labels we use for ourselves and others matter. Some words can lift you up while others throw you in a pit. Many times the words of yesteryear are hurtful and damaging while current trendy words can be confusing and frustrating. Also when words of the past get new meanings in current vocabulary it can be very confusing when talking in intergenerational or interlocutional conversations.

For many years I would have been labeled as wheelchair bound or confined to a wheelchair. These labels make me feel imprisoned and less than human. I also feel like these labels create a sense of pity from the person using these labels. None of these feelings are helpful or healthy. The better choice of words or labels is to say wheelchair user or person who uses a wheelchair.

Currently in disability culture there is a newer term called wheelchair free. We find freedom in our wheelchairs as we can be a part of community and everyday life in all manner

of wheels. There is no better time to be alive as a wheelchair user because there are so many more options and understanding of all our different bodies and needs. People can use the standard manual wheelchair, or powerchairs, or scooters and everything in between. Some manual chair users, like myself, are able to add electric third wheel attachments which give us everyday freedom to stay in smaller and more adaptable chairs that can fold or transport in different ways than their larger, more heavy powerchair counterparts but also give us the ability to go longer distances on different terrains independently.

Many times my medical team refers to my wheels as my shoes. Somedays I nee

d my slippers, my tennis shoes, or my hiking boots. Each footwear is designed for different activities and comfort needs. Think of all the shoes and footwear you own. What if you only had flip flops and had to wear them out to shovel the snow? What if you had to wear your mukluks in your expensive wedding attire? Or maybe you had to go run a marathon in your slippers or Crocs? Would you be flip flop bound or confined to Crocs?

All of us are on a journey of how we talk about ourselves and with others. Our words matter. The best way to interact respectfully and authentically with all humans is to ask questions of curiosity. Asking questions can be so much more vulnerable and scary but making assumptions and using hurtful words can harm and sometim

es kill relationships. A good way others have approached this with me has been something like, “ I want to make sure I am being respectful to you as I value you and our relationship, how do you want to be addressed and what terms are ok for me to use in referencing your chair or needs?”

My wheelhouse is in sharing my lived experience in my wheels, pun intended, but there are MANY other disabilities that are invisible. As I said we are all on a journey of our word choices and changing our words, being open and vulnerable with you all, I am working on getting rid of using the words crazy and insane as using these in everyday flippant conversations can be harmful to my peers with mental health or illness. As you listen to the words you speak and type this week, what words or phrases are you being encouraged to change or remove?


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