Monday, February 17, 2014

An American Prometheus Unbound

When I interned at The Patriot Ledger I was a copy editor of the Rim variety.

Rim editors read and edit stories after the reporters and their editors are done with them. Rim editors also write hedlines and captions. When rim editors finish with a story, it gets sent to a slot editor, who checks the rim edits and stuff. Good stuff, copyediting is awesome.

One of the slot editors (not my sister) had a rule about the phrase "homeless people." She didn't like it. They are people who do not have homes, she said. Referring to them as "homeless people" or "the homeless" made them into a different type of people, one that's easy to dismiss, she said, so I did not my best to keep adjectives  that labeled people out of the stories I edited.

I wonder what she'd think of "wheelchair-bound"? Talk about putting people in a less-than-human category.

This thought popped up first because the Jesuits' America magazine referred to those who use chairs as "wheelchair-bound." The Jesuits?! They're allegedly the smart Catholics. This annoyed Mom, whose letter to the editor, which was not printed, includes:
Please, dear editors at America, rummage around in the newsroom and find your stylebook.  Insert a blank sheet of paper and write on it, with a big black Sharpie, "Do not use the expression 'wheelchair-bound' to describe individuals who use wheelchairs.
The problem is not the stylebook, though. AP says clearly not to use it, just lazy editors who don't mind dehumanizing people by referring to them by their mode of travel, never mind that chairs aren't binding bur freeing. But hey, we can save some space and words by just using "wheelchair-bound," and it's not like we're calling you "cripples," so maybe you ought to say thank-you and go about your business.

I was further thinking about "wheelchair bound" because a friend included me in a wonderful blog she wrote about choosing love not fear. I certainly was not an example of that -- fear and I are close.  She was also talking about the "wheelchair bound" thing.

Apparently, one of the letters America did print complained about the use of "the disabled." I guess that's something.


Anonymous said...

argh. I write these letters to the editors and reporters all the time. You'll be happy to hear that your goddaughter took the initiative this fall to have a conversation with her p.e. teacher about this word choice. Changing the world one person at a time is so exhausting!

Anonymous said...

so disappointing. They should know better than to mess with Jeanne.

Matt Trott said...

I sort of feel guilty. I got someone at work to change a blog that said "confined to a wheelchair" by saying that my wheelchair is freeing; it is what allows me to work. I feel guilty because the person works in Oregon and I doubt she knew I was in a chair.

And yay Goddaughter!

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