Beware the ‘H’ Word


I’m allowed to say it because I have one of those blue placards with a stick figure in a wheelchair hanging from my mirror that says “Handicapped”.  It took a string of events before I found out this word is nearly as taboo as the ‘N’ word.

My realization began years ago when I heard our local NPR host, Darel Snodgrass, interview a blind guy whom he introduced as “visually challenged”.  The guest replied “Actually, I’m blind.”  Snodgrass continued insisting the guest was visually challenged through most of the interview until the guy could take it no longer and blurted out “I’m not visually challenged.  No matter how hard I try or how often you challenge me, the simple fact is that I can’t see.  I’m blind.”  Darel was a bit dense and responded “My guest today is visually challenged.”  He continued using his pet phrase for the remainder of the interview.

Over the years I found out that a person can’t be blind, visually handicapped, or visually disabled, because that would imply that there could be something wrong with them.  It’s so impolite to remind a person of a fact that they’ve lived with for a significant part of their life.  It must make them feel so inferior.  That’s why my car wears that blue placard – to remind me that I may never become an Olympic runner.  I don’t know if I’ll ever recover from what people must think of me, not being an Olympic runner, the same as everyone else.

Since the time of that interview, calling a person “challenged” has become pejorative, a bit like saying they’re retarded.  Not being terribly socially adept, I sometimes refer to myself as a cripple, or even lame.  Like a Weeble, I wobble, but unlike a Weeble, I don’t dare fall down because I can’t get up again.  That means baths are out, and I can’t stand up from a seat that’s too low.  That includes most toilet seats without grab bars.

What I found out a few years ago is that some people are mortally offended by what I just described.   In PZ Myers’ Pharyngula blog he had made some comment about gun safety, which many of his readers interpreted as banning guns.  Since PZ was out of town and not following comments, a few of his followers felt it necessary to guard the comments for him.  Since everything had turned to the meaning of the second amendment by the time I got in, that’s where I picked up.  By that time comment after comment pointed out that you shouldn’t be able to own a gun unless you’re a member of a well-regulated militia (like The Covenant, the Sword, and the Arm of the Lord?).   I jumped in and pointed out that both circuit courts and SCOTUS had ruled on exactly that point and that the supreme court had specifically said that the well-regulated militia portion of the second amendment was to be treated as an example of those who were allowed to own guns.  I included several links to that ruling as well as several different cases where ownership is specifically allowed.

Several people continued to argue without bothering to read my links to the rulings in each of the cases.  The most tenacious was someone called Crip Dyke, who after running out of arguments, told me that as soon as the next supreme court justice was appointed, SCOTUS would immediately overrule all of those interpretations of the second amendment.  I replied that SCOTUS doesn’t get to file the cases that it hears, and that even if it does come up, it may be years or decades before those rulings are challenged.  Since that time, two new justices have been appointed and nothing has happened.

With that said, Crip Dyke was really itching for a pissing match, and she(?) dove into a nasty ad hominem argument.  I had referred to myself in some sort of deprecating way, and she suddenly realized many comments later how horribly offended she was.  This went on for several more comments, and I found out I was horrifying the whole world and that I was being extremely rude to all handicapped people (apparently including myself).

It’s taken a while, but I’ve finally realized that Crip Dyke was right about the whole world being offended.  Now that my awareness has been awakened, I thought it was appropriate to warn my readers about how rude they’re being if they use the ‘H’ word.  It needs to be eliminated from polo, golf, and horse racing too.  Although some people may not know the appropriate catch phrase, I’m sure all my readers already know that it’s “alternatively abled”.  I think that’s some kind of superpower, putting me in the same class as the X-Men.  From now on, I want you to know that I’m not a cripple, nor is my writing lame.  I am ambulatorily alternatively abled, and I’m going to lord that over everyone until the next more proper catch phrase comes along.  Thank you, Crip Dyke, for letting me know how superior I am.

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