Cindy Koepp

Writing on the Edge

The Bird's Word

Polite Rudeness

Posted by Cindy on December 16, 2013 at 12:45 AM

Before I entered teaching, I did tech support and tech writing for a computer company that made Mac clones. The building was an old Big Box store subdivided into a huge cubicle village. One afternoon, I was walking through the Customer Service area with my boss while we talked about why I need a cane some days but not others.  I mentioned that I'd been disabled since birth.  One of the customer service reps put her customer on hold and butted in with "You're not disabled.   You're differently-abled."  No.  I'm disabled, handicapped, crippled, gimpy, messed up, physically not normal ... and many would say that applies mentally, too.


This was hardly my first encounter with political correctness, but it's typical. The purpose of all this PC language is supposed to be to encourage acceptance, but all it does is sound pretty.  The same CS rep, less than a week before, had gotten grouchy with me for moving too slowly while juggling cane, badge, lunch box, and door.


So, what does this "differently abled" and "handi-capable" nonsense really accomplish?  For most people, all it really does is make the speaker feel better.  It makes light of the basic fact that disabled folks struggle with things that so many others take for granted.  I'm one of the fortunate ones.  If I watch what I eat and keep an eye out for flashing lights so I can run the other way, most days I can do like "normal" folks.  Many disabled folks aren't that fortunate.


Don't misunderstand. Most disabled folk I know just want to be treated as normally as possible.  They may need a little extra care now and then.  Most who have adjusted to their disability are happy to do what they can on their own.  Naturally, there are exceptions, but those exceptions occur in other areas of life, too.

 

 Not everyone who uses PC verbiage is guilty of that duplicity.  Another writer I work with promotes referring to disabled folks as "differently abled" and "handi-capable" and so on.  He irritated me at first because I thought he was another of those who used the terms to put on the form of politeness like so many others do.  After a couple conversations and getting to know him a bit, I came to understand his level of sincerity.  They aren't just nice words that make him feel better while he goes on getting irritated with people who need help or request an accommodation.


Given the choice, I'd rather be called a cripple by someone treats me with respect and honors simple requests like "Can you turn the flash off on your camera so I don't have a seizure?" than get PC terminology from someone who's going to get in a huff and insist that they have the right to do something that creates a hazard.


Words alone do not make a person polite.  Actions are just as important, if not moreso.

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