It must be pretty tough being ‘in’ a wheelchair

I came across this Department for Work and Pensions guidance manual with good practice on how local authorities should manage Discretionary Housing Payments.…  as you do.

I was intrigued by the example case study given in the document  on page 26 (FULL DOCUMENT LINK). It says “Mrs Thom is in a wheelchair”, at which point I thought, that must be pretty tough being all tangled up and stuck inside a wheelchair.

DHP 2013 guidance page 26

Of course that’s not what the DWP meant, but disabled people and disabled people’s organisations have for long looked to discourage terms like living in a wheelchair. People are human beings first and Mrs Thom is someone who uses a wheelchair, so being described as a wheelchair user is far more appropriate than someone in a wheelchair.

The point I’m trying to make is that using the right language is important. It frames what your thoughts are about the people you are talking about. You can end up losing people.

The recent example I have is when we had a deputation from a local business owner on the reduced parking charges that Brent Labour introduced last month. The owner argued for a free parking period for up to 45 minutes and “handicapped” people would struggle with cashless parking. At which point he had lost me and I thought to myself that this person obviously has no regard for disabled people if he’s going around at public meetings describing them as “handicapped” – a phrase that disability organisations have long looked to stop the use of and is considered offensive to disabled people.

Similarly, people are no longer described as being ‘in wheelchairs’ or ‘confined to wheelchairs’ and ‘wheelchair user’ is more appropriate.

It’s sad that this example was found in a Government Department for Work and Pensions document and they should really know better.

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