Do It Myself Blog – Glenda Watson Hyatt

Motivational Speaker

The Physically Challenged What? Martians?

Filed under: Accessibility 100 — by Glenda at 5:57 pm on Saturday, September 5, 2009

Accessibility 100

Yesterday, while exploring a website promoting an upcoming accessibility workshop, I read:

The physically challenged represent approximately twenty percent of the population, and this number is growing.

I was left wondering the physically challenged what? Horses? Cats? People? Which population? Of Mars?

Physically challenged, disabled and handicapped are not nouns; using them as such is grammatically incorrect and impedes comprehension.

Consider the follows three revised sentences:

Sentence #1: Correcting grammar and improving comprehension, the sentence could be rewritten to read:

Individuals with physical challenges represent approximately twenty percent of the Canadian population, and this number is growing.

Of course, sentence #1 assumes the Canadian population is being referenced.

Sentence #2: Assuming the 20% figure includes all disabilities, the following sentence would be more accurate:

People with disabilities represent approximately twenty percent of the Canadian population, and this number is growing.

Sentence #3: Alternatively, the sentence could be rewritten to read:

Canadians with disabilities represent approximately twenty percent of the population, and this number is growing.

By changing the word “people” to “Canadians”, this segment of the population is given a sense of belonging and citizenry. After all, isn’t that what accessibility is all about?

Words can confuse or clarify, simplify or elaborate, demean or empower. Take care in how they are used; otherwise, readers may think you are talking about Martians with physical challenges!


Accessibility 100 is a series of 100 easy-to-implement, free and inexpensive tips for improving accessibility for people with disabilities. This is a community project. Feel free to leave your comments, questions and ideas for future Accessibility 100 posts.

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3 Comments »

Comment by Richard Morton

September 10, 2009 @ 11:33 pm

People are still using terms like this without thinking about the effect it has, and it applies in other areas too. In the UK we have a charity called “Help the Aged”, which while doing great work is misusing the word aged as a noun. Personally it won’t worry me when people start calling me on of the aged (my kids already do) but there must be many people for whom the term is demeaning or at the least helps them subconciously conform to the stereotype.
Terminology isn’t always easy and it often changes over time and in many cases becomes politicised (if I was a Welshman living in England and claimed to be part of an ethnic minority for that reason people would just laugh, and yet isn’t that precisely what an ethnic minority is?)
At least the term “the differently abled” seems to have dropped from the lexicon.

Comment by Jo Holzer

September 19, 2009 @ 11:34 am

Once more you’ve hit the nail on the head. Too bad educators no longer understand the importance of parsing (or diagramming) sentence structure. If more writers understood structure, perhaps this kind of tripe wouldn’t occur. You think?

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