“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 in similar contexts, I answered “yes”, without pausing to consider the semantics.

I am aware that many within the disabled community consider this 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, are we!

Wheelchair-bound, to some, implies restriction and limitation. On the contrary, wheelchairs are an aid to mobility and freedom, thereby enabling opportunity, inclusion, exploration and the ability to integrate with society. They are our legs!

However, I must say that personally, I do not find the use of ‘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. After all, 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– Do you think certain terms are outdated and incorrect?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”?

2 thoughts on ““Wheelchair-bound”? | Acceptable Terminology”

  1. Hi Carrie,

    My name is Chris and I came across your site while looking for other MD related blogs. I have muscular dystrophy myself. I figured I’d chime in on your post – for me, I’m kind of the same way. I’m not really offended by one term over another, however I’d say my preference is “wheelchair user”. This acknowledges that the person is, indeed, in a wheelchair, but it isn’t an impediment to continuing on with life. I’m not a fan of “wheelchair-bound” or “confined to a wheelchair”. As the previous commenter stated, we aren’t tied to the thing!

    I look forward to following your blog!


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