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  • Kate Walker

Why You Shouldn't Say "Handicapped"

Since being disabled, I have always hated the word "handicapped." However, it's a word that gets tossed around often. Handicapped parking. Handicapped bathroom. Handicapped hotel room. Handicapped people. I thought for a while that this word just bothered me for no real reason. But then I realized that the entire disabled community doesn't like it either.


It's unfortunate, because "handicapped" has become a common word used in the human vocabulary. But that doesn't mean that it can't be replaced! Handicapped was first used in 1653, but it has simply become outdated. It is much like how a "master bedroom" is now referred to as the "primary bedroom" or how we use the general pronoun of "they" instead of "he" to refer to someone whom's gender we don't know. As time moves forward and people become more progressive and inclusive, words change. This blog post was not written to make you feel bad if you have ever used the word "handicapped." I have even used it before. Instead, I hope that you take this post as a learning opportunity and as a challenge to change your vocabulary in the future.


Handicapped is an offensive word. It implies that the disabled community is separate from the rest of society. When preparing this blog post, I read multiple takes on the word "handicapped" and what it means to the disabled community. While browsing the Internet, I stumbled across a blog post by Kathryn Poe titled "Disability Isn't A Bad Word." Kathryn says it best here. "In the disability community, we never use the words "handicapped" or "suffering from" to describe

someone's disability...we're not suffering. We're just living our lives in a different way." I will include a link to Kathryn's blog post, I highly suggest that you read it. They say it better than I ever could.


"Handicapped' is a word that isolates the disabled community further. Saying someone is "handicapped" is a lot like referring to someone as "special" because they have a physical or mental disability. I think we can all agree that is not okay and is very isolating. "Handicapped" implies that people with disabilities are not capable. That's literally the root of the word. When something is "capped," it means done. Finished. Reached it's full potential. Unable to do anymore. Having a disability does not make anyone "capped."


I know what you're thinking after reading that. "I should use 'handiCAPABLE' or "differently abled" instead!" No, please don't. "HandiCAPABLE" and "differently abled" are terms created by the able-bodied community to describe people with a disability. Why did able-bodied people come up with these? Because actually saying someone has a disability makes them uncomfortable. There was also the worry that calling someone "disabled" is offensive (it's not). "Disabled' is just a word. However, it is a word that is much more inclusive than "handicapped."


I hope that society is able to move forward to a point where "handicapped" is not used at all. Unfortunately, a lot of people define people and things as "handicapped" because they are not sure how else to say it.


I always like to encourage people to replace the word "handicapped" when they are describing an area with "accessible." Saying something is accessible doesn't isolate the disabled community at all. It is just the opposite, actually. Accessibility includes disabled people in with the rest of society and guarantees them the same access that they have. Accessibility is literally defined as "the quality of being able to be reached or entered." Accessibility is inclusive, not isolating. Much different than "handicapped."


As far as people goes, please do not ever call someone "handicapped." Again, it implies that a person with a disability can't function. Disabled people don't need you to call them "handiCAPABLE" or "differently abled" either. "Disabled is fine". It's really not a bad word.


If you are able-bodied, I hope that you learned something from this post and will try to change your vocabulary in the future. We need your help to eliminate the word "handicapped." It will take the voice of disabled people and our allies to make permanent change. I challenge you to hold yourself accountable and remove "handicapped" from your vocabulary. Encourage others around you to do the same so that we can move towards a more inclusive society!


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