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

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Wheelchair-Bound? I Don’t Think So!

I am always taken aback that people still use the expression "wheelchair-bound" to refer to wheelchair users. Particularly when it comes from the media, who should by now know better. I know this expression has been in use for a long time, but it has also been frowned upon by people for a long time. I don’t believe in being Policitically Correct just for the sake of it. I do believe that language has power.

For years, during the disability awareness trainings I gave, I’d use the example of "wheelchair-bound" during the section on "disability language". I would point out that I’m not tied to my wheelchair, but that if I were, I hope it would be in a kinky situation. I’d pause, and grin. Some in the audience got the joke immediately. Others took a bit longer. It was a good way to tell people it’s ok to laugh at ourselves, even if we have a disability.

The thing is, the expression "wheelchair-bound" evokes images of limitations. It is a very negative way to describe wheelchair users. As if because we use a wheelchair, we are so limited as to be unable to do anything.

Photo of a man tied with thick rope to his wheelchair

When in fact, the wheelchair is a tool of freedom. Without the wheelchair, then we are in major trouble and truly limited. With the chair, we’re not bound, we’re free. Some of my friends will gladly testify that I can go faster than them when we go for a stroll, zipping around.

I mentionned that expression today on Twitter, and @Slyall said:

I picture “wheelchair-bound” as somebody who likes jumping off 4-story buildings.

Yeah, that guy’s headed for a wheelchair, if he survives the trip!

So there you are, next time you’re thinking about using the expression "wheelchair-bound", think again, and consider what you’re really wanting to say!

3 thoughts on “Wheelchair-Bound? I Don’t Think So!

  1. Ha! I love the photo!!

    p.s. A bunch of us just swarmed Wikipedia to take out all the times it refers to people as “wheelchair-bound” or “confined to a wheelchair”.

  2. Glad you like the photo. It was great fun setting it up :)

    As for swarming Wikipedia, sounds like a task for Sisyphus :)

  3. Hi, although I completely get your article and everything you say is correct, I’ll put a spin on it from someone who fell 6 floors. As far as I’m concerned people can call me what they want, there is no way I’m going to let the fact I’m in a wheelchair define the person I am. There are people that are wheelchair-bound, but that’s just a mental effect; there isn’t anything that I can do that they can’t. They just need to grow a pair and get on with life and don’t expect things on a plate.

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