Thursday, December 5, 2013

"Handicapped" Does not Define Me

- By Carrissa Johnson - 

I've always felt that knowledge is indeed power. Explanations are important for a person's growth, safety, and well-being. How many of us would follow basic laws if we didn't understand the reasoning behind them? Change doesn't happen for the sake of change. Everything evolves for reason. A good example of this is language. We are asked to drop words from our vocabulary because the meaning can change or seem offensive. I have read and heard many people talk about society becoming “too politically correct” with language. But have you ever stopped to actually analyze the reasons behind such change?

The word “handicapped ”is freely used in society to describe a person with a disability. I still see it daily used in signage and speech. As a person with a disability it upsets me. At times when I tried to explain my argument, people think I'm being too politically correct and that my feelings are hurt over “just a word .“ When you look up the definition, you can see the dictionary even coined it as “sometimes offensive.” Since I'm a person who believes knowledge is power, I would like to analyze the reasons for the offense so that maybe people will understand and will not categorize me as overly sensitive.  Some definitions talk about handicap as an advantage (game of golf) while others to talk about it as a disadvantage.

I know the first is used to describe a game. But I don't look at my disability as giving me an artificial advantage over others. My being able to park in a spot reserved for individuals with disabilities is not an advantage. (It sometimes can be a pain but that's another educational post).
The second definition talks about a disadvantage that makes achievement difficult. I've achieved a lot in my life, but no more than any other person: honors throughout my school career, and Master’s degree, my own home, employment, and a family. At times some of those things were difficult, but not because of my disability itself; only the attitudes and thoughts of others. On the contrary of that definition,  I consider myself very fortunate and blessed to have all of these things and to have my disability. It is a part of me. but only a part. I am more than my disability. It's not a secret that I can't walk but it doesn't have to hinder other activities. Personally I think most individuals with disabilities will tell you that they are working toward a goal and being fulfilled in their life. 
Some websites talk about Handicap being derived from “cap in hand,” a phrase associated with beggars and begging. Handicap should not be used to describe a disability. I have never begged for anything I have. I've achieved and been blessed. Again it does not fit.
Others refute the statement citing a story in the 1600s where the British monarchy used it to honor disabled veterans coming back from battle by removing their caps. Whichever side you take it doesn't describe all individuals with disabilities. (And I personally don't want to be saluted for having one.)

Armed with education what is appropriate? This way of thinking does not ask you to change your vocabulary every few years. Instead put the person first. That never goes out of style. I'm not handicapped. I'm a person with a disability. It is only a part of who I am just like eye color or a job title. It doesn't define me completely. Person first language is not just politically correct or an overly sensitive fad. It is the right thing to do. Just like I believe knowledge is power I believe most people are inherently good and do not want to offend another person. With that in mind, what will you do?