Please click here to order your copy of Worth the Ride: My Journey with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. All proceeds go to Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy (PPMD)

Saturday, April 14, 2007

A Word About Political Correctness

In the aftermath of Don Imus' firing over offensive comments made regarding the Rutgers University women's basketball team, I have heard a number of people decry the radio host's dismissal as an example of the overly heightened atmosphere of political correctness that exists in our society. While it has become fashionable to criticize the concept of political correctness, I think that's a bit extreme.

People should always consider how the way they describe others affects them. If you're one of those people who asks, "How am I supposed to know what is offensive?" use some common sense.

That said, when it comes to disability (a topic on which I am obviously qualified to speak), I must say that some of the conventions of political correctness are a bit overdone. Even I don't follow some of them, so I really don't care much if others don't follow them.

For example, you're not supposed to call someone a "disabled person," but a "person with a disability." The logic, which is certainly understandable, is that you should focus on the person first, not his or her disability. Trust me, people will adopt such language, but they will still have no idea how to act around a person like me. I'd much rather have people treat me well than merely use the right language when they refer to me. It is well known that people are uncomfortable interacting with people like me to begin with. If I sit there and get so particular about what words people use to describe me, how is that going to make them feel any more comfortable?

At the same time, it's understandable why it's not nice to refer to someone as "wheelchair-bound" ("in a wheelchair" is appropriate). It has recently come to my attention that I should be referring to my muscular dystrophy as a "disorder," not a "disease." I'm not sure how I feel about that one. The idea behind it is that muscular dystrophy is definitely not a "virus" that makes a person "sick," which is what the word, "disease" implies. But I don't particularly like the word, "disorder" either. In my own writing, when I use the word "disease," it has no meaning to me. I'm simply using it as a point of reference in conveying my thoughts. That argument obviously doesn't fly when it comes to describing a person's race, religion, etc., but I'm only talking about political correctness as it pertains to disability.

I'm sure that there is no shortage of opinions out there on this subject, so let's hear them...


The Good Aunt said...

I'm not sure I knew that "wheelchair bound" was off limits. I just don't like the way it sounds.

I really like your point about being more concerned with how people treat you than what they call you. Having said that, Imus is huge blowhard who couldn't have been fired too soon for me.

Lene Andersen said...

I hear what you're saying - the PC can get somewhat excrutiating at times. The one that makes me shudder is "challenged". Barf.

However, I do think that appropriate language is a pre-requisite for fairness and equity. If the language reflects a patronizing or demeaning view, it does have a subconscious effect. Rome isn't build in one day on this - or one year or one decade - and respectful language is just one aspect of solving the problem, but it's an essential part.

Michael said...

This is NOT spam. :) Please don't delete. :D

Found this definition of disease: a disordered or incorrectly functioning organ, part, structure, or system of the body resulting from the effect of genetic or developmental errors, infection, poisons, nutritional deficiency or imbalance, toxicity, or unfavorable environmental factors; illness; sickness; ailment.

( disease. (n.d.). Unabridged (v 1.1). Retrieved April 23, 2007, from website:

What pedant disagrees that this definition applies to Duchenne's?

n. The most common form of muscular dystrophy, in which fat and fibrous tissue infiltrate muscle tissue, causing eventual weakening of the respiratory muscles and the myocardium. The disease, which almost exclusively affects males, begins in early childhood and usually causes death before adulthood.

(duchenne's Muscular dystrophy. (n.d.). The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Retrieved April 23, 2007, from website:'s Muscular dystrophy)

Stick it to 'em, Josh.



By the way, what do you call one of those "tool[s] for digging, having an iron blade adapted for pressing into the ground with the foot and a long handle commonly with a grip or crosspiece at the top, and with the blade usually narrower and flatter than that of a shovel." (spade. (n.d.). Unabridged (v 1.1). Retrieved April 23, 2007, from website:

I call it a diggy thing, all right?

The English Courtesan said...

Another interesting post Josh - you are a ray of sanity in a mad world! Some of this seems utterly daft - I can see the one about 'wheelchair-bound' as it seems somehow dismissive but the disease versus disorder one is entirely nuts as is the 'challenged' that Lene refers to.

I think you're right that at the end of the day, if people discriminate in their actions or behaviour, or if they simply don't know how to 'deal' with you (!), no terminology will make a blind bit of difference...

Livvy xxx

The English Courtesan said...

P.S. Oh dear - I think I just upset the PC Police with my use of 'daft' and 'nuts'... :-)