Dear Media: Please Stop Saying We Are “Bound to Wheelchairs”

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Dear Media:  Please Stop Saying We Are “Wheelchair Bound”

How many times do we have to tell you that we are not “wheelchair-bound”? I know you see the letters, the comments on articles, and Facebook groups whose sole purpose is to help you understand.

Yet over and over again the media insists on using the most dramatic, ableist, and sensational terms when referring to people who happened to have a disability.

“Meet the woman helping wheelchair-bound people dance”:

For TODAY, NBC’s Morgan Radford reports on a woman who wants to help make life a little better for people who are wheelchair bound by giving them the chance to dance.” http://www.today.com/video/meet-the-woman-helping-wheelchair-bound-people-dance-648120899918

‘BEYond excited!’ Wheelchair-bound model with muscular dystrophy stars in Beyonce’s new merchandise campaign
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-3497703/BEYond-excited-Beyonce-taps-wheelchair-bound-model-muscular-dystrophy-pose-new-merchandise-campaign.html

I am sure it helps you sell ad space, as people love a good victim-overcomes-tragedy story, or how an “Inspiration Porn” feature helps make able bodied folks realize just how lucky they are, but this type of angle is offensive and is defeating all the efforts for normalization, integration, and anti-stigmatism we are all working to achieve.  We honestly do not want, nor do we need, the sensationalism.  We just need equal rights, job opportunities, friendship, love, and access.

So, please, stop it.

We use wheelchairs for mobility.  We are not bound or “confined” to or by them. That terminology is antiquated, and does not reflect how we care to be perceived. It does not even meet the professional standards provided in the National Center on Disability and Journalism Style Guide. It is also clearly an attempt to overdramatize, stigmatize, and marginalize who we are as people (even while you are purportedly trying to feature us positively.) Stephen Feldman helps to put this in perspective: “It’s social darwinism. Wheelchair-bound = less than, less deserving, to put it mildly. “Wheelchair-bound” positively drips with pity. It keeps us in our place — bound to our wheelchairs.”

And, while we’re at it, we are also not “victims” of autism, cerebral palsy or any of our disabilities.

In case it is still not clearly understood, comprehended, or you just need a more visual clarification of what it is that we’re trying to communicate, here’s a picture to help illustrate the difference.

Here is someone who is clearly BOUND to the wheelchair.

Woman seen bound by tape with words written on tape conveying negative stereotypes about disability

“A Paralyzed Life” Image of Rachelle Friedman by Ira Goldstein

Here is someone who USES a wheelchair.

Blonde woman in yellow wheelchair smiling into camera

Model Wendy Crawford is the founder of Mobilewoman.org

So, to the Today Show, and all other media outlets who want to do a positive story about a person who is wheelchair dancing with the fabulous, integrated dance troupe Infinite Flow, doing something noble and exceptional (and no, getting married and getting asked to the prom is not a remarkable accomplishment, so you can also stop patronizing us with these types of stories), creating a remarkable new enterprise, or simply winning the Nobel prize, please remember to be BOUND by what is the morally and factually correct way to describe an entire group of individuals who are trying to overcome pity, fear, and discrimination.

Continuing to use these type of words and descriptions are not helping.

Deborah Davis

Deborah is a Speaker, Disability Inclusion Consultant, Entrepreneur, Writer and Business Owner of Wheelchair Lifestyle Enterprise Push Living Inc.

She was a Former Dancer, Accident Survivor (C 6-7 Spinal Cord Injury resulting in incomplete Quadriplegia 1985), College grad (BBA Finance 1991 U of Miami), with a background in Sales and Marketing and Non Profit Development and Management.

She is now embarked on new path creating a market for Disability Inclusive Stock Images with the creation of PUSHlivingPhotos.com and publishing an online enterprise: PushLiving.com. The mission is to create Inclusion for people with disabilities through stock images for advertising, marketing and editorial uses, providing accessible properties for travel, swap or purchase, publishing an online magazine for improved health and well-being, providing information and opportunities for Accessible Travel, and operating an online store with products that improve lives.

She is most passionate about building a network of people with disabilities who are empowering, supporting and creating a more inclusive world. Personally, she is a mother of two beautiful, wise and exceptionally bright young women, and residing in South Florida.

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