“Wheelchair-bound”? | Acceptable Terminology

Yesterday I attended a hospital appointment, during which I had to answer dozens of questions about myself and my condition (Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy).

I explained that I use a powered wheelchair and am completely non-ambulant. (I often find that most people assume wheelchair users can walk a little, or at least weight-bear, which I cannot).

Going through my questionnaire, the nurse asked if I am “wheelchair-bound”. Having previously used this term to describe myself, I answered “yes”, without considering the semantics.

I am aware that many within the disabled community consider the term archaic and offensive. Now, I don’t want to get deep or political here – I completely understand and appreciate why people feel this way. After all, we are not literally bound to our wheelchairs.

The term, to some, implies restriction and limitation. On the contrary, wheelchairs are an aid to mobility and freedom, thereby enabling opportunity, exploration and the ability to integrate with society.

However, I must say that personally, I do not find the term ‘wheelchair-bound’ in any way offensive. I think the reason for this is that I don’t take the term literally.

Perhaps a poor comparison – but in the same way white people are not literally white and black people are not literally black, I am not literally wheelchair-bound. Yet we don’t consider the descriptors ‘black’ and ‘white’ to be offensive, inaccurate or socially unacceptable.

Similarly, there are those who may prefer to be referred to as differently-abled rather than disabled, disapproving of the latter classification.

Once again, I have no issue with being described as, or calling myself disabled. I am in fact disabled.

I’m not sure there is a particular point I am trying to make throughout this lengthy ramble, it is merely an observation. I simply got thinking about the issue of terminology following the comment made by the nurse, yesterday.

– What do you think about disability ‘labels’ such as ‘wheelchair-bound’, ‘disabled’ and ‘differently-abled’?

– Do you think certain terms are outdated and incorrect? If so, why?

– And how would you have responded to the nurse who asked, “are you wheelchair-bound”?

1 thought on ““Wheelchair-bound”? | Acceptable Terminology”

  1. Personally ‘wheelchair bound’ is one of my pet hates because it makes it sound like I tie my kids to their wheelchairs! And before now I have corrected health professionals!

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