Sunday, October 29, 2006

Sensitivity or Overkill?

This is from the blog of an Orlando Sentinel reporter.

Special Olympians: What to call them?

Posted on Oct 29, 2006 2:12:00 AM

So, on Friday I had a story the paper about how Special Olympics Florida needs more medically trained volunteers for things like health screenings and basic physicals for their athletes. The group's State Fall Classic is Friday and Saturday at Disney's Wide World of Sports and more than 1,200 athletes will play stuff like softball and bowling. They are woefully lacking in volunteers. (You can still do that if you want to. See Special Olympics Florida for details.

So, I noticed that the copy editors had changed my reference to the athletes as "intellectually disabled," or "people with intellectual disabilities," which was the preferred reference of the Special Olympics to "mentally retarded," in the copy that ran in the newspaper. I was surprised and let the copy editing desk know. How antiquated!

Apparently the " AP stylebook" -- the bible that the newspaper goes by -- still uses this as the reference to people who have disabilities that limit their intellectual abilities.

What do the experts--the doctors, therapists, etc., use?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's our job as copy editors to drag our feet on this sort of thing, because being on the bleeding edge of language change, for a bunch of reasons.
For one, the latest terminology isn't always clear to the people who aren't hip to it;
For another, new expressions are forever being thrown out by particular interests who hope to change people's perceptions, and we shouldn't feel responsible for forwarding propaganda.
The mental retardation field has a long history of creating a term, having it get "skunked" and creating another that gets tarnished in its own time. (Look up the origins of "moron" sometime). The Association for Retarded Children felt so strongly about "retarded" that it dropped the word long ago, even though its initials cause confusion with the American Red Cross.
It has been 20 years since "handicapped" was banned in favor of "disabled," and at the time, there were people agitating for "differently abled."
I'm inclined to think that terminology-twisting doesn't do disabled people any good, that the reader isn't fooled, and that the publication that follows the practice ends up looking silly.

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