Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Meaning of Words

I have used a wheelchair for nearly fifty years now, rolling out of the dark ages before the Rehabilitation Act, the ADA, and the Olmstead decision. In that time, I have come to believe that three primary factors confront those of us with disabilities.
  • Money. Few with disabilities have the resources to afford the appliances and assistance that would make for a more sophisticated life.
  • Class. Since most people with disabilities are relatively poor, we face class discrimination as well.
  • Fear. The fear of the other, exemplified more than once to me personally when I have heard "God, I'd kill myself rather than spend my life using a wheelchair."
For years, I have written about "accommodation" -- the use of government authority to force changes that will allow people with disabilities to integrate more completely, more fully into society.

Today, however, an acquaintance and fellow disability rights activist may have changed my mind about what I want for me, and for every other person facing discrimination.

Here are the words of Lawrence Carter-Long.

"Not to get too Luntz and Lakoff here, but people think of issues in frames. The words we use to describe access can either rein force negative frames or facilitate more positive meanings.

An accommodation, given the nature of how the word is both used and understood, implies extra work; a hardship. No matter how we attempt to spin it, pressing for an accommodation reinforces two negative frames 1.) a good deed is being done which reinforces the charity model and 2.) some degree of hardship to those given the task of accommodating inherently burdensome disabled people given the context.

Using the very word implies non-disabled people have to modify or adapt to satisfy us and is, I suspect, resisted because of the conflict it creates.

If we take the same concept and begin to frame it as an expansion however, we open up the space in which we all think about what it is we're actually trying to do ... a benefit rather than a burden."

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