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November 6, 2010

A matter of respect

Dear Wheelchair Users,

At the Department of Social Services website you will find that the government of Nova Scotia thinks your wheelchair limits you.  You will find that attitude reflected in countless ways, including an October 25 article in the Chronicle Herald, about Bob Sheeny's transportation difficulties while attempting to visit his hospitalized friend.  The reporter managed to add insult to injury by using these two sentences:

The driver even called his supervisor, who confirmed that wheelchair-bound passengers are not allowed on the 60.
However, Sunday morning the driver said that he could get in a lot of trouble for letting wheelchair-bound passengers onto non-wheelchair routes.

On the previous Friday, Gordon Delaney of the Chronicle's Valley Bureau wrote:

Amy Paradis, 16, is quadriplegic and confined to a wheelchair

Evidently, the style manual in use at the Chronicle Herald requires the modification of wheelchair either with confined or bound.   This must be in the chapter on Gratuitous 19th Century Misconceptions.  At DSS, they can't say wheelchair without saying limited.  Bob Sheeny's wheelchair doesn't seem to restrain him in any way.  In fact, what prevents him from visiting his friend is not his disability, but the intransigence of Metro Transit.  Without the discriminatory foot-dragging of Metro Transit, Mr. Sheeny would be able to get on any bus in HRM - just like he could in London or New York.

It's not that Mr. Sheeny can't do things, he's prevented from doing them. 

It is discouraging, 10 years into the 21st century, to find a government department so mired in the distant past that the word wheelchair must be modified by 'limited'.  Tempting as it is, I try not to reflexively use 'dinosaur' as the modifier of 'government minister'.  You'd think a government department charged with serving people would take the trouble to understand their circumstances.

Not in Nova Scotia, where the 19th century has a firm grip.  Public servants and journalists should train themselves to use the much more accurate phrase wheelchair user.  Wheelchairs are enabling and liberating.

Gus Reed

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