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The term handicap has become a thorn in the side of the English language.  It is one of the words most associated with the argument of political correctness. So what is a handicap?

I read on CNN’s Young People Who Rock about a young fellow, Sean Forbes, who performs music videos with American Sign Language for the Deaf Community. He is an inspiration to the Deaf Community and he brings to them a piece of the world most people never expected they could have. Below the passage there are a number of comments flaming the mention of deafness as a disability [handicap]. In my mind a handicap is something that significantly alters the way a person experiences society. The Deaf Community is indeed a culture. ASL is the third most used language in the United States. But it is impossible to say that when outside of the Deaf Community communicating can be a struggle. I have taken a course in ASL, but having not actually sought out situations to use it, I have only used it once in the four years since I first started. People who have speaking difficulties are often considered to have disabilities or handicaps, but it merely a communication barrier. Perhaps that is why deafness is not considered a handicap because it is a communication barrier similar to the growing English-Spanish barrier. But then speaking difficulties should not be disabilities.

It is impossible to toss around the word handicap or disability without making someone angry. It is almost as if the terms themselves make people lesser than others. They are social categorizations similar to race. Ultimately, I must agree that deafness is not a handicap, but such a term can only be defined in the eye of the beholder. If I went to Russia could not someone say I am handicapped?

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One Comment

  1. For me the word disability means to experience discrimination based on impairment.

    Because i am a disabled person society actively discriminates against me on the basis of my impairment. People’s attitudes towards me are very questionable, the environment does not accommodate my needs and organisations work to keep me out.

    The word disability therefore gives m something to fight against, something that is outside of me, something that i have survived. This is a basis for pride and shows my strength. I uphold a social model of disability.

    The word handicap is a tragedy model of disability word. It says i am to be pitied, afraid of even. It places the problem within me. It is rumoured to indicate the postion of disabled people as beggars who come to you cap in hand for your charity. It may have links witht he horse racing world, the sport of kings. It demands patronage.


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