Disabled marathoners drub runners

Here’s a bit of contrarian sporting news that escaped my attention when it happened April 18:  The 20 fastest finishers in the men’s 2011 Boston Marathon had one thing in common: All raced in wheelchairs.

Our friend Warren Reed highlights this remarkable (but largely unremarked upon) fact in an article for the Journal of Medical Ethics decrying the use of outdated terms about disabilities in scholarly writing by medical researchers. It’s a point Reed has gently chided Contrarian about in the past.

In an informal search of half a dozen medical journals, Reed found 8,680 articles in which the word “wheelchair” was paired with either “bound” or “confined.”

Clearly there are many in the medical profession who don’t understand that wheelchairs are instruments of liberation, not confinement.

In his recent introduction [pdf] to the World Health Organization’s World Report on Disability [pdf], Nobel Laureate Stephen Hawking voices hope that “this century will mark a turning point =for inclusion of people with disabilities in the lives of their societies.”

Notes Reed: “It’s hard to imagine how that might happen if 8680 medical researchers continue to think of wheelchairs as anchors rather than sails.”

Those aborted cuts – feedback

Civil Rights activist Warren Reed took the time to read the complex documents setting forth the Dexter Government’s furtive plan to slash medical benefits for residents of special care homes. The documents were posted here last night. The Dexter Government shelved the plan, which would have required residents making less than $2,000 per year to pay for needed medical supplies, dental treatments, vision care, and certain drugs including, in some cases, insulin and anti-seizure medication. The unannounced cuts, developed without consultation, were to have been implemented Canada Day, but were put on hold late Thursday after the Canadian Press wire service started asking questions of the Community Services Minister Denise Peterson-Rafuse.

Reed writes:

The documents evoke the fine old days of the workhouse. I thought Dickens was dead. The whole plan is so paternalistic and antediluvian as to be worthy only of incineration. Yossarian himself would perk up at the “Policy Objectives” section, which parses into something like, “The objective is the policy and the policy is the objective.”

Unfortunately,  you have let a bit of unnecessary cliche creep into your language. As suggested below, you could have written the whole article without reference to “disabilities” (proposed deletions highlighted in yellow). 

By reminding the reader that the policy merely affects the “disabled” you plant the thought that these people are different from us. They are us.

Warren has a point, though I think he carries it one step too far. That this policy would have applied only to Nova Scotians with disabilities is a pertinent fact readers ought to know. It’s not just a mean policy, but a discriminatory one that targets a group of Nova Scotians ill-equipped to stick up for their rights. Alas, having made that point, I then slipped into the common error of repeatedly defining the affected people by their disability. Warren is right. They are not “the disabled.”

They are us.

Wheelchairs unbound

Haligonian Warren Reed objects to the thoughtlessly patronizing word choices many journalists apply to wheelchair-users and those who discriminate them.

In an email to two Chronicle-Herald reporters who recently wrote about separate cases of discrimination by Metro Transit and the Nova Scotia Justice Department against wheelchair users, he complained about three sentences in their stories:

  • “The driver even called his supervisor, who confirmed that wheelchair-bound passengers are not allowed on [Bus No.] 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.”
  • “Amy Paradis, 16, is quadriplegic and confined to a wheelchair.”

Reed wrote:

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.

Bob Sheeny’s wheelchair doesn’t seem to restrain him in any way; 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 as he could in London or New York. It’s not that Mr. Sheeny can’t do things; he’s prevented from doing them.

You should train yourself to use the much more accurate phrase “wheelchair user.”  Wheelchairs are enabling and liberating.

  • Wheelchair users are not allowed on the No. 60 bus.
  • He could get in a lot of trouble for letting wheelchair users onto non-wheelchair routes.
  • Amy Paradis, 16 uses a wheelchair.

Those sentences are not judgmental, and they help clarify the absurdity of the situation. Let me see. Bus drivers can get in trouble for letting passengers on their buses? The important thing about Amy is that she uses a wheelchair, not her medical condition. If you gave a medical opinion every time you mentioned Darrell Dexter or Stephen Harper, you’d be spending most of your time in court.

I recommend substituting these catch-phrases, which are highly accurate:

  • Discriminatory Metro Transit
  • Cliche-ridden Chronicle Herald
  • Proudly backward Halifax officials
  • Patronizing Chronicle Herald reporters
  • Poorly served Chronicle Herald readers

When you see Bob Sheeny, don’t feel sorry for him, just get out of his way.

I’m uncomfortable singling out the Herald here, because I’m sure I’ve used the same stupid phrases without thinking. I bet the reporters in question slapped their heads in dismayed recognition when they read Reed’s sharp letter.

Still, in 2010, there’s no excuse for a newspaper copy desk not having clear and enforced policies on such word choices — as, hopefully, the Herald does now.

Homeopathic overdose – rebuttal

Contrarian would not have thought it possible for a defense of quackery to set me chuckling and nodding my head, but my old pal Warren Reed has done it. [Previous installments here and here.] Knowing that the best defense is a good offense, Reed began by catching me in the act of scientific error:

Amedeo Avogadro

One of the few things I remember from Nat. Sci. 3 is Avogadro’s Number — 6.023 x 10**23.  So it isn’t roughly 10**23 as you state — it’s actually 6 times that.  Six is called The Republican Constant – any Republican can stretch the truth by a factor of six without raising an eyebrow on Fox News.  Journalists often get the same exemption.

But we don’t read Contrarian just for the science.  More puzzling is the notion that a group of pub-crawling Brits is claiming to know what constitutes “proper medical assistance.”  Of the reasons for healing—the passage of time, the placebo effect, natural defenses—”proper medical assistance” is on the list, but is an evanescent concept at best.  It depends on many of the same principles for success as Homeopathy.  Take two aspirin and call me in the morning.

More after the jump.

Continue reading Homeopathic overdose – rebuttal

What’s the difference between a “no queers” sign and a set of steps?

Haligonian Warren Reed has a sobering take on our discussion about potential “cures” for people with Down syndrome:

I am still stuck on the Down Syndrome thread.  As Canadians with disabilities will tell you, Canada has a medical model of disability. The approach is, “let’s fix what’s wrong with you,” rather than, “let’s fix what’s wrong with us.” Hence the inaccessible buses, devilish sidewalks, and antediluvian building codes. The result is a hidden and large group of people who are disenfranchised, undervalued, ignored, and sometimes abused.  See the shocking account in Monday’s Chronicle-Herald.

One of my big defeats was an unsuccessful complaint against poor building codes I made to the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission in 2006.  I thought it was pretty compelling, but the HRC are evidently a bunch of cowards who declined to get involved in improving lives.

I’m not disappointed anymore—just angry.  Can you explain the difference between a “No Queers” sign and a set of steps confronting a wheelchair user?  Chances are your local MLA maintains an inaccessible constituency office. A government that can’t include it’s most vulnerable citizens loses its moral authority.

This kind of systematic discrimination creates a climate where disabled people are second-class.  Is it a surprise that they’re abused by those who should be protecting them? For people in wheelchairs and people with Down Syndrome Canada is a disappointing, dangerous place.