VI. The Independent Living Movement 1970 to Present D. Continuing Struggles 1. The Problems and Importance of Language
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"I am convinced that we are making the most profound
social change that our society has ever known."

– Ed Roberts, 1990
 

Many argue that attitudes and stereotypes are the real disabilities. To help get beyond the old stereotypes of disability as simply a moral or medical issue, it is important to consider the words we use to describe disability.

Jargon used by service providers and other professionals is deficiency-oriented: it places the disability, usually a negative view of disability, before the person. The following excerpt from an article in People magazine (December 1988) about Cambridge physicist Stephen Hawking illustrates this point:

"Wrecked by Lou Gehrigs's Disease, the body of the greatest cosmic thinker since Einstein huddles helplessly in a wheelchair ... What's left of Stephen Hawking, the physical man, is a benign head ripped by a drooling grin and a body collapsed into a pile of wasted limbs, ravaged by ALS ..."

Such language is insensitive and judgmental, and implies deep-seated attitudes toward individuals with disabilities.