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Language: From Handicapped to Disabled and Beyond

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” ~ William Shakespeare, from  “Romeo and Juliet”

The Bard wrote those words 400 years ago, yet they still hold true today.  When Juliet first uttered them, she was illustrating a point that the name of a thing doesn’t matter, it only matters what the thing is.  For example, if a rose were named a tulip, the flower would remain the same.

Jon Kabat-Zinn (Founding Director of The Stress Reduction Clinic and The Center for Mindfulness in Medicine) once explained that if his parents had decided to name him something other than Jon, he would still be the same person.

The other day I was perusing some Facebook postings. I noticed a post from someone I barely knew.  It stuck out like a sore thumb.  It simply stated, “The Bachelor is a retarded show.”  I had to re-read it.  I couldn’t believe someone had used the “r” word, a word so repugnant to me that I immediately felt shocked and angry at its use.  I sent this person a message, asking her edit the word out of her comment.  She deleted my request.  I private messaged her, explaining (in the nicest way possible) the negative connotation of this word.  After I clicked the send button, I blocked her.  Was I being mean?  I don’t think so.  I am learning how to avoid toxic people in my daily struggle to remove needless stress. I am also steering clear of ignorance whenever possible.

There is another word in the English language that has been used to describe people with Multiple Sclerosis. This word also sends shivers up my spine.  It is “handicapped”.  The “h” word was first used in the UK after The Crimean War, when veterans were sent home with injuries that rendered them poor.  Parliament made it legal for them to beg on the street, keeping their “cap handy” for donations.

Today, the “h” word is unacceptable.  Nowhere in The American with Disabilities Act does it appear.

According to The Online Free Dictionary, the word disability means “A disadvantage or deficiency, especially a physical or mental impairment that interferes with or prevents normal achievement in a particular area.”  A disability is a condition, and the condition does not limit a person as a whole.  If we can’t use our limbs, we can still think, write and read.  If we are cognitively impaired we can still feel love, friendship and compassion.

We can always use our collective voices to achieve MS awareness through our words, walk a few miles to raise money for our cause and support each other with courage and kindness.  When we do this, we set examples to show the world that we, the MS community, are generous, intelligent and hardworking people who deserve equal access, equal treatment and equal acceptance.

Choose your words wisely.  They can make all the difference in the world.

The MS community continues to make me proud by putting the emphasis on “ability” within the word “disability.”

SOURCE/NOTE: A very interesting article I read and used for the purpose of this post is “Why Handicapped is Not Cool” by Juney Kainulainen.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • mary
    7 years ago

    I do not mind handicapped. I think of it more of like a golf game type thing. I hate the word invalid or the thoughts that go along with it. To me that implies I am stuck in a bed, in a fetal position, with a diaper on, not able to care for myself whatsoever!! Disabled is a nasty word too!! Quite honestly I really don’t know of a good word other then it sucks!!

  • Cathy Chester moderator author
    7 years ago

    No, Mary. There is NO perfect word to describe our inability to do different things. You are quite right.

    Thank you for leaving your thoughtful comments.


  • Cathy Chester moderator author
    7 years ago

    Christie, This article was an easy one to write because I was so fired up about seeing people choose and then use inappropriate words.

    People with MS are doing great, important and powerful things, adding so much to society. We add great value.

    Thank you for reading my post and leaving your lovely comment.


  • Christie Germans
    7 years ago

    Great post Cathy! Thanks for putting this out there and reminding us that our perfectly abled bodies are generous, intelligent and hardworking.

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