The other day I read an article by Linda Noble Topf — author, motivational speaker, and self-styled “advocate for disability rights” — titled Wheelchair Wisdom: Stop the Busyness and Smell the Roses.
In the article, Topf, who has multiple sclerosis, describes her difficult transition from being ambulatory to using a scooter. At first she felt trapped by it and began focusing on things like stares (from people), stairs, and ramps. Then she discovered the freedom of mobility the scooter provided — first while participating at an event at the U.N., then at a Flower Show.
This could have been a cool article except for her description of wheelchair users: “… when anyone, man or woman, aging adult or handicapped child, becomes wheelchair bound. That designation in itself, “wheelchair bound,” speaks volumes. The wheelchair binds us.”
Wheelchair bound? Are you kidding me??? Yes, the designation, “wheelchair bound” does speak volumes, and it is also journalistically incorrect — according to the AP Stylebook, the correct term is “wheelchair user.” And the AP uses “wheelchair user” because the disability community asked them to do so, years ago. How a disability rights advocate and author can not know this is beyond me.
Imagine the confusing message for attendees of Ms. Topf’s motivational speaking presentations who hear that it is liberating and enabling to be “wheelchair bound.”
And as for “handicapped?” Hey Ms. Topf — the ’80s are calling, they want their derogatory word back. Feel free to use “disability” as in “child with a disability.” “Handicapped” has been removed from parking signs and spaces, as well as entrances, bathrooms etc. that are wheelchair accessible, “accessible” being the the correct term.
Ms. Topf, I encourage you to keep up your work, but please watch your language — let it grow and evolve with the times.