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Language -- am I being too vigillant?

From: David M. Clark <david@davidsaccess.com>
Date: Thu, 8 Nov 2001 12:56:12 -0500
To: "WAI-ig" <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
Message-ID: <000f01c1687e$a769eeb0$3201a8c0@dpser>

Over the past couple of days, I have had an interesting exchange with
one of the companies claiming to have an accessibility solution. I am
not using their name to "protect the innocent", but I would like
thoughts on their responses to my well intentioned feedback.

After reading their unsolicited marketing literature, I felt compelled
to write because of my own visceral reaction to the language used.

The message I sent said, in part:

"First, though I feel that political correctness can be taken to its
extreme, using the wrong terms can be damaging. The prevailing theory is
to use "people first" language, like "a person who is blind" or "users
with hearing impairments" because disability should not be THE defining

Second, the term "handicapped" is very dated and pejorative - analogous
to "colored" in referring the African Americans. The story goes --
though I have never confirmed, that the term is derived from the phrase
"hand in cap" referring to beggars."

My intention was based on my own feelings and what I think is the
prevailing viewpoint in the community. The response, as shown below,
surprised and frustrated me.

Am I taking political correctness too far?

Thanks  for any thoughts,


David M. Clark
Marathon Ventures
ph: 617/859-3069

1. The political issues surrounding the word "handicapped" are more
analogous to the term "Indian" when referring to Native Americans than
it is to "colored." That is, some feel it is pejorative while others
find it neutral. I  researched this issue when first writing our 508
materials and concluded that, although "people with disabilities" would
be preferable to me, it is nonetheless a needlessly wordy expression
which can be more efficiently handled by the single word "handicapped."

Moreover, "handicapped" is the more commonly and widely used terminology
and is therefore more likely to be quickly recognized by people quickly
scanning our marketing materials. The bottom line is: the majority of
our target market for 508 is not handicapped; they are government and
military officials who need to meet the Section 508 deadlines quickly
and efficiently. As many of our materials are also posted online,
scannability must be a major consideration in our copy as well as in
boosting the chances that our online materials will be picked up by
people typing terms into search engines. Face it, people don't commonly
use "people with disabilities" or "person who is blind"; they type in
"handicapped" or possibly, but less likely "disabled" (another terms
that I'm sure Mr. Clark and I would agree carries negative
Received on Thursday, 8 November 2001 12:56:48 UTC

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