Cap In Hand Equals Handicapped

When I was initially injured, a new life started for me. Not one I would have consciously picked, but it was mine nonetheless. My new life came with a new body, and my new body was high maintenance. It needed help with a lot of things, so I had to learn how to hire personal care aides to work with me throughout my day 24/7. Of all the new things I had to get used to in my new life, this was one of the hardest… Having people around me constantly, helping me with everything you do throughout your day, beginning when you pick your head up off the pillow in the morning until you put it back down at night.

I was very naïve in the beginning. I thought every person I hired would be a modern version of Florence Nightingale…why else would you choose to work in the healthcare field? I quickly got an education of A LOT of other reasons, and some were not the best of intentions (but that’s another blog in itself! 🙂 One thing my family and I found frustrating was many aides sent to me from health care agencies had no idea of the care I needed, so I decided to take a personal care aide course myself to see what exactly they were taught.

Another issue I had with my new life was being called physically handicapped. It wasn’t a denial thing… What was there to deny? I couldn’t move from the shoulders down, so there wasn’t much room for a debate there. Other similar words didn’t bother me, such as physically disabled, physically challenged, individual with a disability, etc. But for some reason, handicap wanted to make me puke and punch the person using it. It still does.

At the class I took for personal care assistants, they taught almost nothing about hands on care of another human being. They taught you how to make a bed, how to assist someone with taking medication, how to assist someone using a cane, walker or wheelchair, and not much else. They did, however, spend part of an afternoon on politically correct words and phrases and the importance of using them.

When the head instructor started talking about the origin of the word handicap, I sat up a little straighter. I learned in the early 1700’s in England, homeless people who were living on the streets would often beg for money and have their cap in their hand to hold any donations they received. Over time, ‘cap in hand’ turned into ‘handicap’ and somehow translated into meaning a person with a disability. And we wonder how and why some words come with an instant stereotype that isn’t flattering.

Every time I see a parking spot or restroom with the classic blue sign containing an outline of a person in a wheelchair, denoting the area is accommodating for someone with a disability, the word on the sign (even new signs) is handicap. Speaking politically correct, handicap has not been a popular, positive word to use when referring to a person with a disability for the last 20 years. Ironically, it’s our government is who needs to initiate changes for these types of signs to read something different… I guess they are having trouble catching up with themselves.

Everyone is unique in what they are sensitive to. A word or phrase that bothers one individual may not bother another, regardless of its political correctness. Individuals with disabilities and their families have to deal with a ton of stereotypes that surround words and phrases used to describe different physical, mental and emotional disabilities. There have been times I have used a word or phrase when referring to an individual’s circumstances and they have gotten offended by my choice of words and were sure to firmly correct me. After apologizing and reiterating that I thought I was using what was correct, I always wanted to know not only what was the correct thing to say but why. This is how I realized what was “correct” for one person may not be “correct” to another. While it’s impossible to be a mind reader, before I speak to someone regarding sensitive issues, such as disabilities, I take a moment to recall my previous lessons of to say or not to say. If you happen to say something in such a way that offends someone with a disability, the best thing to do is simply apologize sincerely and have the courage to ask them what the correct thing to say is. This will show the person you care enough to try and get it right the next time.


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