Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Beat Me with the Handicapped Stick!

There was a news story in a Tampa (FL) newspaper recently that repeatedly used the word handicapped. I'd call it overuse, as did the person who initiated the action against the county.

Here is a sample of the language:
"The park will become the fifth in the county with boardwalks the handicapped can use to get to the beach, government officials say. Two of the city of Vero Beach's parks and the Sebastian Inlet State Park even have loaner big-wheel wheelchairs for helping the elderly and handicapped get close to the shore.

"But there has been a long 12-mile gap in handicapped beach access, from Vero Beach to the state park.

"That will change, as the county moves ahead with a $1-million plan for rebuilding Wabasso Beach Park that was destroyed by the 2004 hurricanes. The new park will have what the earlier facilities didn't: a gradually sloping handicapped ramp to the beach, Suthard said."

Personally, I don't like the word. Save it for the golf course and horse race track.

I fiddled with the language a bit and wrote an alternate version, which I posted to the virtual community where the issue was being discussed. I said, "To me the central issue is access. If the beach is public property, it should be accessible to every citizen without dividing the public into classes based on any particular trait. There are many places in the story the word accessible could be used and the word handicapped dropped. He's simply being lazy and relying on an abandoned cliched description of one segment of the citizenry. I even rewrote the two paragraphs and posted it to the list:
"The park will become the fifth in the county with boardwalks providing access to the beach, government officials say. Two of the city of Vero Beach's parks and the Sebastian Inlet State Park even have loaner big-wheel wheelchairs that can move people close to the shore. But there has been a long 12-mile gap in beach access, from Vero Beach to the state park. That will change, as the county moves ahead with a $1-million plan for rebuilding Wabasso Beach Park that was destroyed by the 2004 hurricanes. The new park will have what the earlier facilities didn't: a gradually sloping ramp to the beach, Suthard said."

Usually I find myself a conservative in a nest of disability-rights radicals, but this time there was minimal response, and what there was of it suggested we should pick and choose our battles and swallow the complaints whenever we are confronted with the outdated vocabulary of a media-type who prefers to rely on cliches rather than descriptive language.I was surprised. As Margaret Atwood has noted, "A word after a word after a word is power."

The repetition of handicapped is ignorance at best and denigrating at the minimum, negative in every connotation when used to describe the abilities of a human being.


I only want equal access. Restaurants and theaters and other similar facilities accommodate you provide by providing chairs. The least they can do is accommodate me by providing a ramp and a wide door.

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