Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Political Correctness 101

I've done 'Disability Basics'. I've completed the 'Master Answer Sheets' booklet and now I'm going to poke fun at an earnest and well intentioned program to eradicate from the able bodied/minded (?) every last discriminatory thought/feeling and possibility of utterance.

The tutorial book tells me that there are (an estimated) 10.8 million disabled people in the UK so when I am asked at Question 3 "How many disabled people do you think there are in the UK" I tick the box for 10.8 million. Never mind what I actually think (the emphasis is mine), I want to put this wretched business behind me - if I get less than 70% I have to do a re-sit immediately, if I get less than 80% I have to retrain and do a re-sit in 6 months.

In fact the preceding question [Which part of the Act do you think this extract is describing...] is even worse since the Act exists, it has a clearly defined structure, only one part of the Act is described in the extract. There's only one possible correct answer so the question should be: Which part of the Act does this extract describe?

At the bottom of the first page of the answer booklet I found the following question:

Do you think a person who may have difficulty trying to hold a pen to write with would affect their ability to carry out a normal day-to-day activity?

That is verbatim the question. I promise. Blimey!

Do you think ... I'm being asked a question or am I being asked my opinion?

a person who may have difficulty trying to hold a pen ... about a person who may (or then again may not) have difficulty trying to hold a pen. Problem 1 - does or does not this person have difficulty? Problem 2: is the problem with the trying or the problem with the holding?

to write with ... huh?

would affect their ability to carry out a normal day-to-day activity? ... such as walking the dog?

After some deliberating I'm still not sure what this question is driving at. The question might be "Do you recognise that difficulty writing using a normal pen affects an individual's ability to carry out at least some ordinary day-to-day activities?" or it might be "Is a person who has difficulty writing using a normal pen such that performing at least some ordinary day-to-day activities disabled as defined under the Act?" or even "Does difficulty holding and writing with a normal pen constitute a disability as defined under the Act?"

Given the required pass mark I'm truly worried that I was supposed to mark Not Sure as my answer.

The problem I had with a lot of what followed was that I can't fix in my own mind where the line between plain and simple old-fashioned rudeness and discrimination lies or even if there is supposed to be one any more. For example an early question asked which of the following four scenarios illustrates 'discrimination':

An elderly person being rushed if he or she is too slow
A mum with small children and a buggy in a shop struggling and not being offered assistance
A blind person being refused entry into a building because they have a guide dog
A disabled person being told that they cannot shop because there are no facilities for them

To me three and four are obvious examples of discrimination while one and two are equally clearly examples of bad manners. In the first example someone is being rushed because they are too slow but there's no indication that this is directly to do with the person's age and a young dawdler might receive precisely the same treatment. Never mind disability discrimination, it isn't even obviously an example of 'age discrimination'. Similarly we've got someone not being offered assistance. Sorry, that happens all the time to anyone who needs help. The rude are a pretty undiscriminating bunch.

Later the test examines the candidate's ability to use 'appropriate' language. This is all about testing how well the candidate has taken on board the insights with which he or she has been provided into which words are now acceptable and which words are not.

Invalid is out the window. Only horses may be Handicapped; which is a mercy or the Melbourne Cup might become the world's richest race for Horses with Disability. Yes, you are supposed to deduce from the sarky tone that this was the point at which I really lost patience with the exercise. I have a handicap; I'd tell you his name but that might lead to 'issues' with kitchen knives and holes in the back garden being dug in the middle of the night.

The phrase dual sensory impairment is fine but the person is still blind and deaf. Under this regime 'dumb' and 'mute' are to become archaic and historical curiosities familiar only to those perusing the medical and census records of 19th century forebears. Someone who helps and assists a disabled person may not be described as a carer or a helper or, for that matter, a 'nice person'.

This is absurd. It might, just might, be right to consign words that have acquired such negative connotations as 'dumb' and 'mute' to the dustbin of lexicographic history - though an argument can be made for their reclamation from the clutches of misuse on the grounds than one word is to be preferred over 6 or 7 (the number of words in the alternative phrases we're to use). On the other hand are we seriously to stigmatise now the words helper and carer and eschew the phrase 'nice person'.

Thankfully and after ticking the correct box (the one next to Personal Assistant) in response to the question "how would you describe a person who helped and assisted a disabled person?" I was able to close the answer booklet and submit it for marking.


  • At 5:21 pm, Blogger Mathew said…

    Political correctness is ludicrous
    see the site:


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