Friday, November 30, 2012

Language Matters

If you haven't had a chance to read this Diabetesaliciousness post about never saying someone has severe diabetes, take a look. Kelly reminded me how much language matters. She also reminded me how inadvertently hurtful people can be. The ignorance of saying someone has severe diabetes based on the use of an insulin pump is cringe worthy. But, instead of cringing, or getting instantly angry, Kelly took a moment to teach a little more about diabetes. Thanks to Kelly one person learned something new and got a perspective adjustment.

An anonymous African American slave is credited with the proverb, "Each one teach one." If you learn to read it is your duty to teach one other person how to read. If you gain any knowledge pass it along to one other person. Kelly did this and then shared the process on her blog. It gave me a huge smile when I read it. Each one teach one.

I've only dealt with the crazy Disney World teacup ride of diabetes for a year and a half. I have dealt with disability for 15 years. I've used a powerchair off and on for eight years. Depending on where MG is attacking, some days walking just sucks.

"Severe diabetes" made Kelly cringe. "Confined to a wheelchair" makes me cringe. One of the most liberating experiences I ever had was the day I took my first powerchair out into the world.

I spent an entire summer with leg muscles that grew weaker every day. When my legs wouldn't move more than ten steps without collapsing, my world shrank. Getting an ice cream from the ice cream truck was impossible. Going to a store, a movie, out to eat with a friend vanished. Going to a wedding, a funeral, a graduation, a school play, a concert, a park, the zoo, a museum -- all of these ordinarily things that make life worth living disappeared. For five months I was on house arrest. Not because I committed a crime. I was trapped because I needed a powerchair and did not have one. That was the most confined I have ever been.

I received my first powerchair in November of 2004. I rocked my hand forward on the joystick and moved by myself. I went for a cruise on the sidewalk a whole block away from home. Two blocks. Fifteen blocks. I went to a park and watched the leaves fall. For the first time in five months I wasn't confined anymore. I was free. The joy I felt still echos in my life.

Confined to a wheelchair? Confined? Really? Confined is needing to move and not being able to move. I can move! I am anything but confined. My powerchair, like my insulin pump, transformed my life for the better. Confined to a wheelchair is cringe worthy in its inaccuracy. Ditto with wheelchair bound.

Instead, we can say Marie is a wheelchair user. Or Marie uses a wheelchair. She is a powerchair user. She uses a powerchair. A powerchair is a tool I use, not a destination, or a reflection on the joy in my life. I love my powerchair. I love my insulin pump. I feel blessed to have both in my life.

Terms like confined to a wheelchair, or Wheelchair bound, assume that a wheelchair is a trap. I am trapped by the distance my legs can move before I fall down. Confined to a wheelchair and wheelchair bound convey pity and a sense of hopelessness when the opposite is true. The terms heap negative assumptions about the person who uses the chair. A wheelchair is adaptive equipment and not a state of mind. Adaptive equipment is commonplace. After all, eyeglasses and contact lenses are also adaptive equipment.

 Confined to glasses. Contact lens bound. No one would say that because it sounds ridiculous. Glasses and contacts enhance life. They don't restrict it. Everyone knows that.

The perspective shift is this...

Glasses are for eyes. Wheelchairs are for legs. That's it. That's the only difference between them. Knowing this, consider the terms confined to a wheelchair and wheelchair bound. Don't they sound ridiculous? Wheelchairs don't restrict life. They enhance it! Now, each one teach one.


  1. You ='s amazing!!
    Thank you for the shout out & thank you even more for the many lessons you've taught me in this beautiful post.
    Kelly K

  2. You are welcome, Kelly. You inspire me all the time!

  3. Beautifully written, and thank you for writing it. This makes perfect sense, though I never thought of the terminology that way ... but I will now.

    1. I am glad you enjoyed it. And thanks for your kind words.

  4. I want to high five you so hard.



I am not a doctor. I do not have a medical degree. Nothing on this site qualifies as medical advice. These are lessons I'm learning at the University of Catastrophe. What I find to be correct answers in my classes may not be the right answers for you.

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