Spend a Day in a Wheelchair – Jeffrey Preston

Spend a Day in a Wheelchair – Jeffrey Preston.

Interesting take on the issue of widespread disrespect for people who we consider dis-abled. The author rejects the pity response to disability he says is encouraged by ‘spend a day in a wheelchair’ initiatives. He advocated for guided tours that point out structural blocks to accessibility in architecture and public works.

Sometimes I get very frustrated writing about this issue. It’s difficult to find adequate and respectful descriptors for the ‘disabled.’  I balk at using this word ‘disabled’ or words like it. Virtually every word that we’ve ever used to describe disabled people focus on their limited mobility, including the word ‘disability.’  I’m not too crazy about the term ‘differently-able’ either.  I understand the intent behind it, but I find it too much of a reaction to the word ‘disabled.’  We need descriptive terms to communicate and we generally focus on the normative (cow, for example) in creating descriptive terms that are not specific to place or location as in Wolf Beach. When it comes to people who have lost mobility in whichever way, I feel we haven’t gotten very far in coming up with adequate descriptive, non-judgmental terms.

Of course, we tend to judge people generally by their level of mobility.  If we are immobilized by poverty we do everything we can to hide that fact from others, to ‘fit in’ by whatever means we can.  Someone with a physical mobility issue cannot hide the fact so judgment by others is much more transparent.  Some people in wheelchairs, etc., have very ‘mobile’ minds but that’s not a visible part of what they are.  Our judgments tend to focus in first on what we see.  These judgments can change and often do once we get to know someone as an individual.

I guess what I’m advocating here is that we reject first impressions and reserve judgment to a time when we have enough information about a person to make a reasonable judgment.  This isn’t always easy but we can strive to reserve judgment and keep our minds open to learn about a person before leaping to conclusions about that person based on first sight impressions.  Can we do that?  Yes, we can.


5 thoughts on “Spend a Day in a Wheelchair – Jeffrey Preston

    1. Thank you for your comment, Marcy. It’s so true that walking a mile in someone else’s shoes provides the kind of insight that can really change the way one sees the world.


  1. At one level, I see limits to how much Political Correctness can soften the blunt truth regarding some personal situations. If people wish to derogate each other, then each new term for a disadvantaged group will become derogatory almost as soon as it is coined. I don’t think we should go back to “crippled”; certainly some evolution of terminology is appropriate. I’m less sure the relatively simple “wheelchair user” is out of date yet.

    Getting rid of architectural impediments is a worthwhile cause. It helps people who do not use wheelchairs for one thing, in our aging demographic. Yet good health and mobility are important parts of what it means to be human, and losing them will always mean loss in quality of life. I suspect fear, rather than a sense of smug superiority, motivates some of the attitudes displayed. Everyone knows that they might lose their health or ability to walk at any time, and perhaps a boastful denial becomes the effective psychological defense.


    1. Clearly and articulately stated. You’re correct in all you write here, I think. Language has been a special interest of mine for years. Within it lies countless clues of social organization. As Ernest Becker notes over and over again in his work, we deny our animality using culture. Any weakness we perceive in others is frightening because it reminds us of our own mortality and always potential morbidity.


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