Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Gimps Against Political Correctness

Did you hear? New York Governor Pataki recently vetoed a "political correctness" bill regarding disabled people.

I found this proposed legislation to be somewhat patronizing, as if all "people with disabilities" subscribe to a single phrase to describe themselves. When will those misguided politicians learn that lumping people into groups (as if it were possible to taxonomize humanity), is no way to respect them as individuals.

I personally knew a quadriplegic guy who sometimes used the risky term "gimp" in conversation. He thought the word was funny, and he felt it reduced alienation and infused the moment with humor. He actually shared the idea of opening a fast-food chain, based on Wimpy (the Popeye character who would gladly pay Tuesday for a hamburger today). He conceptualized promotional materials picturing Wimpy sitting in his wheelchair, about to scarf down a burger. He thought the name of the restaurant would be - that's right - Gimpy's Hamburgers.

To each their own. It just goes to show you that everybody, not just "the disabled", deals with life and self-identity in unique ways.

I've much of the past 15 years working with people with disabilities. In my current part-time employment at University of North Texas, I type notes for disabled students. These amazing people persevere through enormous challenges and limitations (every human being has them). They come from a wide variety of backgrounds, and they possess a broad spectrum of perceptions and beliefs about how they should be treated. On a personal basis, one on one, I will tailor my words in response to what a particular individual prefers (much as I try not to call someone Christopher if they prefer Chris). But I cringe at the idea of legislators trying to define meaning and language for everyone else.

I think political correctness bills do nothing to help disabled people, and they might even inspire a backlash from reactionaries who might roll back the clock on the Americans with Disabilities Act, if given a chance. These types of bills also detract from bigger issues. For example, patients benefitting from medical marijuana don't care whether their jailor calls them a "person with a disability" or not. They just want out of jail.

Since these legislators are so adept at pandering to distractionary feel-good politics, I'm somewhat surprised they haven't devised a more detailed label such as, "people with different abilities who are valuable and capable and worthy of love and shouldn't be treated any differently than anyone else"? But like federal marijuana patient George McMahon says, the one thing we have in common is that we're ALL different.

Political correctness is prejudice at its worst because it assumes that one size fits all. In a sense, it's linguistic fascism - and you can tell them I said so.


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