A Brief Statement on the Language of Disability

About a year ago, I received an e-mail from a disability rights activist asking me to employ person-first language on this website. She also noted that many readers might take offense to terms like "wheelchair-bound" and "handicapped."

At the time, I was still a recent addition to the disability community - injured in late 2012, I was stuck at home and in the hospital until January 2014. My perspective on the disability lifestyle had been influenced by 23 years as an able-bodied person. Not wanting to offend the very people I was hoping to help, I scoured this website for potentially upsetting terms and replaced them.

As WheelchairTravel.org has grown, I have started to pay greater attention to who is reading and following this website. Last year, I sent a survey to newsletter subscribers, seeking to gain more information about who they are and what they are looking for. Thanks to your responses, I have been better able to deliver content that aligns with your travel interests, questions and concerns.

New members are being added to our community every day — whether it be through birth, accidents, old age or illness. We're growing. And many of those who join us unexpectedly won't have any grasp of our sensitivity to the terms or phrases that might offend us. Just today, someone found this website after asking Google "How do wheelchair-bound people go through airport security?" If that was you, welcome to our wheelchair travel community!

This is a website. And, in a world where search engines drive traffic, the placement of keywords has a major effect on the ranking of websites in search results. When people are searching for information using keywords like "wheelchair-bound," that is a keyword I need to rank for.

Moving forward, you'll see a mix of the terms you prefer and the ones you don't appearing on this website. It's not meant to offend you, but to reach those who don't yet understand our lexicon. I'm biased, but I think WheelchairTravel.org is an important resource that opens the world to people every day. I don't want travelers with disabilities to miss out because they search for accessible travel information using the "wrong" term.

I hope you'll bear with me as I work to reach our community's newest enrollees — our peers in the disability lifestyle, who will soon be rolling alongside us. And, if you disagree with what I've said here, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

  • Stephen M

    Hello John. I travel a lot in my wheelchair. Later in the year I’m actually going on a plane. I have to use a wide spectrum of terminologies to find appropriate information. Like you I’ve seen life from non-disabled and disabled perspectives and witnessed the changing nature of verbal classification. To acknowledge this and display your awareness is the most we can do. It would however be wrong to assume that all wheelchair users are educated articulate people with inspirational expertise at milking the internet for the information we require. For whatever reasons (and I’m conscious of being on thin ice here), a lot of people are not blessed with such talents and so, to utilise a song title: “Any term will do.”

    • Bonnie J Ghostwriter

      Joseph & The Technicolour Dream Coat <3

    • Hi Stephen, I appreciate your statement. I hoped to make it clear that I’m only trying to reach everyone, with no ill intentions. I’m a part of this community too, and I respect everyone’s opinion on the subject. We all have our own preferences, so it can be a tricky path to navigate. Hopefully showing my awareness of that reality, and explaining my reasons for using certain terms at different times, will keep me on the up-and-up with my readers! 🙂

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