Part of a Whole

My name is Nicolas Steenhout.
I speak, train, and consult about inclusion, accessibility and disability.

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New Zealand Media Continues To Use Inappropriate Disability Language

Journalists need to respect disability language. There have been many instances of the use of the expression "Wheelchair bound" in the New Zealand press. When someone points out this is an expression to be avoided, the journalists or newspapers have been saying they thought the expression appropriate. They continue to use it.

I am thinking specifically about the Manawatu Standard‘s Health Reporter, Stacey Kirk, who uses the expression in her recent "Pair share very special bond". I contacted Mrs Kirk in September about her use of that expression in "Stouch over disability parking".

I explained why the expression "wheelchair-bound" is wrong. I suggested that saying "wheelchair user" would be more appropriate. But she said that she thought the expression relevant and appropriate to the story. I was hoping that the next time she wrote about a wheelchair user, she would say "wheelchair user" rather than "wheelchair bound".

Mrs Kirk’s refusal to use disability-appropriate vocabulary is distressing, especially as she is the Health Reporter of the paper. Also distressing is the Manawatu Standard’s stance that the expression could be relevant to a story.

But I’m not picking on Mrs Kirk specifically. She simply has the misfortune of being a handy example of something that is prevalent in the media, at least in NZ written press as delivered through Stuff. See "Laptop is stolen from wheelchair-bound woman", or "Gardens for wheel-chair-bound opened in Porirua" for a couple recent articles. Or "Wheelchair-bound man apologises for sex crimes" or "Woman drove car into wheelchair-bound partner" for a couple slightly older articles. But the NZ press is not alone in using improper disability language – we hear such language regularly on NZ television, I just don’t have handy examples of these at the moment.

It is obviously not enough to make individual journalists aware of the issues with the language they use, otherwise Mrs Kirk would not use the term "wheelchair bound" anymore.

What is it going to take for the media to change their attitude? What is it going to take for the media to start using disability-appropriate language?

Read my previous blog about why the expression wheelchair bound is not appropriate.