Monday, June 25, 2012

What's in a Name? Gimpy Gardener?

"What’s in a Name? I am NOT a Wheelchair-bound Gardener!"

"The difference between the right word and the almost-right word
is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug."
- Mark Twain

DID YOU KNOW…that the word DAISY comes from the Anglo-Saxon term ‘daes eage’ meaning “day’s eye” referring to the flower's sun-like appearance, and the way that it opens early at dawn and closes at night. Word origination and meaning, although sometimes misunderstood or disputed, are very interesting. A word that was once considered acceptable may become offensive over time in its interpretation.

The word handicapped may imply a helplessness that is not suggested by the more acceptable people first language used as in “person with a disability”. There is also some stigma attached to the word handicapped because of its origin in the phrase hand in cap, which was actually derived from a game of chance, but sometimes is mistakenly believed to involve the image of a beggar. Although, there is confusion with its origination, it is inappropriate for anyone writing or reporting about a person with a disability to use language that is deemed offensive. This would apply to other words as well such as retarded, crippled, wheelchair-bound, crazy, nuts, lame, crippled, invalid, etc.

Years ago, I was speaking to a large group of people and someone in the audience asked me, “What do we call you?” I smiled, and very quickly responded with, “My friends call me Brenda!” I am an Advocate for People with Disabilities, an ADA/Accessibility Coordinator, mother, wife, and a gardener. I had a spinal cord injury when I was 22, and I have a physical disability, incomplete quadriplegia, that requires me to use a wheelchair. I personally refrain from the term disabled as well, because I believe in the use of people first language. Other terms such as wheelchair-bound are unacceptable because it implies entrapment versus the use of a wheelchair as a tool.

People first language is defined as a linguistic prescriptivism that seeks to eliminate dehumanization of people with disabilities. It helps those who don't live with a disability recognize people with disabilities as individuals with personalities and identities that are distinct from their disability. The most basic and effective use of the language is to identify people with disabilities by their names.

As a gardener, I prefer to be referred to as a gardener. I am a gardener who also happens to have a disability, and I use a wheelchair for mobility. It is actually a complement for me when I am simply recognized as a gardener, or someone refers my Facebook Page, Access to the Garden, to another, as a “great page on gardening”. I enjoy the fact that my page has this universal, inclusive appeal. I am not special (maybe to my loved ones), I am a Gardener and I'm not a Special Gardener either. I may have to be a little more creative with my technique or approach to gardening. I am definitely a person who shares the passion for gardening. I am not wheelchair-bound. I may occasionally fall out of it, I do not sleep in it, and when I’m in my garden, I often forget about it. My wheelchair is a tool; it usually gets me to where I need to go.

Gardening seems to have its own universal language. I’m not the only one who enjoys the benefits of containers and raised beds. We all seem to enjoy close up pictures of beautiful flowers too. There are different approaches, some organic, sustainable, vertical, etc. but the end result is the ability to grow something beautiful and/or delicious. I just had my first homegrown tomato, and it was absolutely wonderful. There is definitely a difference in taste.

As I converse with other gardeners, and as I learn more about gardening, I realize that we are all interested in any type of tools that make the work of gardening easier. Not many people enjoy reaching their bare arms into a rose bush when pruning. A snip and hold long reach pruner will make this task easier and less painful for everybody.

Garden gloves with a good grip and that are designed to be easy to put on and take off, will benefit most gardeners as well. My favorite garden trowel is actually my 2’ Craftsman shovel. It’s great for digging small holes, and I don’t have to lean over. My latest acquisition was a pot mover, a hand cart specifically designed to move large containers. This has been a real back saver. Love it!

It seems as if a lot of products that are designed for people with disabilities make their way into the consumer market for everyone to enjoy. Now, imagine if Good Grips had originally called their products, Cooking Utensils for Invalids or Cripples? I don’t think that they would have had quite the success.

In spite of numerous resources for our media and often public officials, these offensive terms are heard or read daily. I will not be interviewed without telling the reporter first that if he or she uses inappropriate terminology or if the Editor adds it in later, I will blast them in my review. The characterization of a person with a disability as a person first and foremost can be the difference between recognition and dismissal of a person who has ability, interests, and ambition. Love this quote!

People such as my friend Sandy Hanebrink in the below picture can do extraordinary things. Her accomplishment of working with Anderson County, SC to build the state's first ADA Accessible kayak launch on the Saluda River was an outstanding accomplishment.

"Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a disabled politician" seems an almost absurd description of a man who became one of the most respected Presidents of the United States. His accomplishments are so well known and regarded that they eclipse the fact that he spent much of his life in a wheelchair as a result of a battle with polio. Does this then suggest that there is a threshold beyond which a person with a disability must achieve to be afforded an identity beyond their physical, sensory, or cognitive impairment?”

People First Language: I Am Not My Wheelchair

We are people first, plain and simple. If a word offends, try not to use it. It took me several years to convince the Mayor of a nearby city to stop using the word handicapped. Some people may have difficulty understanding the correlation of the daisy to the sun, although, that one seems fairly easy to understand. Maybe by using something similar to the scientific approach of plant naming called binomial nomenclature, there would be less room for misinterpretation. My Scientific name would be Brenda Parent gardener, and maybe somewhere down the line I could be in a class of gardeners with disabilities.

Don’t Say (in italics) , Do Say (in bold)

Differently abled, challenged Disability
The disabled, handicapped People with disabilities
Slow learner Person with a learning disability
Quad Person with quadriplegia
Autistic Person with autism
Mongoloid Person with Down syndrome
Midget Person of short stature, little people
Burn victim Burn survivor
Handicapped parking Accessible parking
Blind Visually impaired
Alcoholic Alcohol dependent
Brain damaged Brain injury
Polio Post-polio syndrome
Confined to a wheelchair Uses a wheelchair
Hare lip Cleft lip
Fit, attack Seizure
Mute, dumb Speech disorder
Birth defect Congenital disability
Mental retardation, retarded Intellectual disability
Wheelchair-bound Person who uses a wheelchair
Normal, able-bodied Nondisabled
Deaf-mute, the hearing impaired Deaf, hard of hearing


  1. Hi Brenda.
    Thanks for the education. I enjoyed reading your blog. My wife, Jane, and I have a large vegetable garden and love it. I'll check back from time to time.

  2. keep reading and sharing! Thanks!

  3. I love it! Normal, able-bodied, Non-disabled....New to the disabled "tag" I would never have thought of myself as nondisabled. Now when someone says, Oh, you are disabled I am going to reply "yes and I see you are nondisabled" LOL If they only knew....Jean Gilmore

  4. I was told by a reporter yesterday that I was ridiculous for being offended by the use of the "h" word. I cringed every time I read that or wheelchair bound. Yow would think that the media would be somewhat sensitive to what is offensive in the year 2012????

  5. Thanks for the list at the end. I think some people would be more careful about their language if they knew what was appropriate. It is like learning any polite etiquette.

    I like the title of your facebook, too. As you say, nearly all the ideas you showcase are all about making gardening accessible and easier for anyone, from children to old folks. Everyone has a limit; the difference is only a matter of degrees.