I work in a variety of positions throughout the gaming world, and almost all of them result in me doing at least a bit of educating when it comes to disability politics/preferred language. The most pervasive issue that I seem to come across is the use of language around wheelchairs.
People aren’t IN wheelchairs. People USE wheelchairs.
Here’s why: when you say in, the emphasis is on the wheelchair. When you say USE people with wheelchairs become the active participant in the use of a tool. Not passive.
Here’s why it matters:
So much of the assumptions around wheelchairs are flawed. You’ll never get out of them if your doctor prescribes one for you on a temporary basis. You’ll never be able to GO ANYWHERE or DO ANYTHING. In media, wheelchair users are portrayed as fat and lazy and slow, and that feeds these concerns that if you use a wheelchair, you’re not trying hard enough.
Even within media which is specifically made to show the lives of people with disabilities, there are issues. In the tv show “Push Girls” there are frequent references to not being like those other wheelchair users because the women in the show work out, wear heels, and don’t wear sweatpants.
Now, for those who are playing along and have been reading Feminist Sonar for a while, I’m betting you know how I feel about that, but if you’re new? Let’s take a moment:
Shaming other people with disabilities to make yourself feel better about your new condition is never ok.
Shaming people for what they wear in order to be comfortable when they use their adaptive devices is never okay.
Shaming people for having bodies which aren’t compliant with the inhabitants wises? Super not okay.
Which brings me back to the language we use for people who use wheelchairs, BUT ALSO how people who are using wheelchairs are treated and perceived by able bodied peers.
A wheelchair is NOT something that you can just push out of the way because there’s a person who is sitting on it. They are in control of the wheelchair. Touching the wheelchair is like touching their body, and moving them without permission? Not okay.
Not noticing wheelchairs is also common – so is seeing a wheelchair as an inconvenience because of the spatial difference between a chair user and a standing person.
Referring to people who use wheelchairs as lazy isn’t just unacceptable -it’s also wrong.
A manual wheelchair takes upper arm strength and actual skill to move around a crowded conference or other space. A motorized chair (which I haven’t driven one) also takes skill to know where to park it and how much space you have between people. They’re vehicles.
A person with a wheelchair is a wheelchair USER.
A wheelchair is a TOOL not a toy.
A wheelchair is not an easy way to make it around a space.
Change the language you use around the use of wheelchairs, and you’ll be helping to change the perception. Change that, and we may yet have a better world for people with disabilities.