Sunday, August 15, 2010

Not Bound to My Wheelchair

There is Outward Bound.

There is Bound to Be, a phrase my Irish grandmother used a lot when the inevitable happened. She'd say "That was Bound to Be." It sounded capitalized. There's Homeward Bound, by Simon and Garfunkel. There's Bounder, a great name for a dog.

That's all well and good. But there's a problem with the word bound when it's used with wheelchair, i.e. wheelchair bound. It drags up images of someone duct taped to a wheelchair or melded into its cushions or metal frames. It denies the very real fact that the person using the wheelchair gets in and out of it and is not a part of it, is not a machine, that the wheelchair is a tool.

That kind of language is why, when little kids ask me questions, one of the questions is Bound to Be:

"Do you sleep in your wheelchair?"

"No," I say.

"Well, where do you sleep?"

"In a bed, just like you."

I explain that I get in and out of my wheelchair, that I use it to get around, but that I get out of my chair to do certain things. Finally they get it.

Unfortunately, many journalists still don't and use the phrase wheelchair bound on headlines.

This morning I saw five of those headlines. One was about wheelchair bound people going up in a hot air balloon. Yes, it was an uplifting experience for wheelchair bound patients. Another was about wheelchair bound people being stuck due to an elevator mishap. The next article used the word confined, but it's the same image problem. She should be confined to a wheelchair, doctors apparently said. They should know better.

As Bad Cripple writes:

I use a wheelchair like one uses their legs. It is nothing more and nothing less than a different way to navigate the world. The problems I encounter are thus not physical but social, the failure of society to negotiate difference. In my case the use of a wheelchair. This is as wrong as the headlines above and frankly it pisses me off. I am angry not because of my inability to walk but because I am not treated equally, that is with the same respect as a man that can walk. I am weary of this lack of respect and had hoped at this point in my life society would have evolved more than it has. Headlines with the words "wheelchair bound" in them reveal nothing about the person being written about but rather a significant social failure that needlessly makes life more difficult for millions of Americans.


The Untoward Lady said...

Yes, unfortunately these kinds of attitudes are all too common coming out of the the shoes-and-socks bound population.

Wheelchair Bling said...

Yes, I guess newspaper editors think that saying "might have to use a wheelchair" doesn't sound direful enough, so they have to punch it up a little.

I remember some years ago, our local paper tried referring to "wheelchair victims". It was doubtless dropped due to silliness - were gangs of wild wheelchairs roaming the streets, mugging people?