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Sticks & Stones

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me, right? Says who? Words can tear down or build up. Words can deceive or speak the truth. Like a loaded gun, words carry power.

I cringe when a man refers to women as girls. I recognize the implication, yet that same man would swear he’s not sexist. We are acutely aware of the meaning behind calling a man “boy.” It’s dehumanizing and unacceptable. Words carry power.

When ALS plucked me out of the able-bodied world and into a wheelchair, my ears tuned in to a few new powerful words: handicapped and disabled. I understand that I am part of the disabled community, a varied and protected class. It’s a term used to identify. For example, I’m a disabled Veteran. Be aware any other context connotes inferiority.

Handicapped is an outdated, cringeworthy word that gets my hackles up whenever I hear it. In some circles, a high handicap means you suck at golf. It also means severely physically, emotionally, or socially. So what is a handicapped restroom? Is it physically lacking a toilet? What about a handicapped parking space? Is it emotionally unavailable? I don’t get it. I don’t want a severely lacking toilet or parking space.

I need an accessible restroom with grab bars and room for my wheelchair. I need an accessible parking space with a striped area for my ramp or lift. Let’s remove the word handicapped from the English lexicon unless we’re talking about golf scores. You may ask, “Who is this person to tell me what words are acceptable?” Do you have able-bodied privilege? If so, please respect the wishes of someone who doesn’t.

I had able-body privilege most of my life. No one assumed I was cognitively or hearing impaired. I never wondered if I could enter my friend’s house or a restaurant. I could sit in any stadium seat that I could afford, ride in or drive any car, and park where ever I wanted. I rarely looked for an elevator, and stairs and curbs were never an issue. I could walk to the bathroom and step into a shower or bath. I could scratch an itch.

I can still accomplish great things. I can still lead a purposeful life without the privilege. Don’t feel sorry for me, Don’t feel guilty. Don’t feel embarrassed because you’re able-bodied, and I’m not. But, (and here’s the but), can you acknowledge that I face barriers and difficulties that never enter your mind? That’s it. That’s what your privilege requires; simply an acknowledgment—a nod to the fact that our life experiences are different. Insert any privilege: White, male, born into a wealthy family, healthy, etc. Don’t get defensive. Just acknowledge that you may have fewer obstacles than those who don’t have your privilege. It’s the right thing to do.

Let’s come back to the power of words. If you have privilege, your words have power. You are responsible for respecting the words rejected and preferred by those who don’t. You may not understand, or it may not be a big deal to you. But it’s a big deal to those impacted by your words.

If you’re unsure, ask. I’d say never say handicapped. Call me a disabled Veteran if you need a label. I am a person living with ALS, emphasis on living.

Let’s use our power with wisdom and respect.

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24 de jul. de 2023

We are told, "The tongue is the most harmful thing in our bodies!" LET US THINK BEFORE WE SPEAK. "DO NOT OFFEND YOUR BROTHER."


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