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Handicapped or Disabled?


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For a long time I have been confused concerning the way the terms handicapped and disabled are used, specifically the establishment's favouring of the latter and proscription of the former.  Not only have I completely failed to understand the reasoning, but I have also never been able to find anyone able to present any justification. I am just told that handicapped is insulting and disabled is good.


Today I was pointed towards a very interesting article which, at last, explained part of the thinking behind the usage of the term disabled. I also found it interesting to note a comment on the article which used the same thought experiment I present when discussing the matter.


The article Don't call me handicapped! can be found on the BBC website and concerns a poll "...to try and determine what really are the most vilified words and expressions around disability.":




According to the article:


... will tell you the correct term is "disabled people". Why? Because the word disabled and disability refer to how society treats them, not their impairment, which is a medical matter.



I really wonder how widespread understanding of that difference is?  It really was news to me.


Notwithstanding this elucidation, I remain of the view that the proscription of the term handicapped is truly an own-goal. The words have very clear, and distinct, meanings in English, so using them in a different way for this area is bound to have unintended consequences.


The thought experiment I use to highlight the meanings of the words is a sailing race between several identically equipped boats.  If during the race one boat rips her jib sail, she will no longer be competing with the others on a level playing field. Finishing the race will still be possible, but winning becomes more of an achievement due to the circumstances.  She will, in fact, be handicapped. Not a bad thing, rather a positive association.


On the other hand, if a boat in the race loses her rudder, continuing in the race is no longer likely to be an option. She is disabled. Broken so much she can't work. Not a good association I would posit.


My eyesight is not 20/20. Without correction I would not be able to drive. This handicaps me somewhat, but certainly does not disable me. Whether or not the term disabled refers to the individual (as explained in the quote), or societal attitude, I can't see why some people have such a problem with the term handicapped.



As there is quite a bit of discussion in the article concerning the pejorative usage of retard, this old Shetlink thread on that subject may be of interest:





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