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Commentary: Come on sport reporters. Get it right regarding wheelchairs and people with disabilities.

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I think it is very awesome and cool that Manchester United have hired Sohail Rehman as a coach for their development team.  I wish the 22-year-old all the best in the world.  Rehman is making all sorts of news in the football community because he uses a wheelchair, and is reported to be the first professional men’s able-bodied soccer coach to use a wheelchair.  Awesome.  Congratulations.  Inclusion is important, and giving people opportunities is even more awesome.  Talented people should be talented where ever their talent lies.



Now can the sports bloggers and sports press corps get the terminology right? Sohail Rehman is not “wheelchair bound” as the Bleacher Report or Metro UK say in their titles.  Soccerlens also fails in this regards. Ditto Who Ate All The Pies.  Very disappointingly, Eurosport who have covered disability sport in the past, also chose to describe Rehman as wheelchair bound. Keighly News chose to go with equally awful “confined to a wheelchair” approach.


To my fellow sport reporters, yeah, do not do this.  It is crap, sensationalist sport reporting. Go tell the story of Cristian Ronaldo, who was confined to using his two legs to score two goals in Real Madrid’s Supercopa game against Sevilla.  Poor Ronaldo.  Confined to only have two legs!  Editors really should know better. This isn’t 1996, and the United States aren’t busy hosting one of the worst Paralympic Games in history, where people with disabilities are hidden and generally out of site.  This is 2014, where we had the 2012 Summer Paralympics and people are getting university scholarships to play disability sport, and where people are playing disability sport professional.  And not just that, they are playing it at a really high level in a way that should make any sport fan delighted to watch.  Sport reporters should be past this crap.


And if the sport reporting corps isn’t past it, their editors should damned well be there to catch them.  Yeah, I’m talking about you Daily Mail! I saw what you did with “wheelchair-bounded” and “disabled” both used in your title.  This sort of terminology is bad reporting, bad sports reporting and just demeaning.  Worse yet, it goes against the rather reasonable and pretty well thought out guidelines set out by the International Paralympic Committee.  These guidelines, available here, clearly say:

      • Avoid using emotional wording like “tragic”, “afflicted”, “victim”, or “confined to a wheelchair”. Emphasize the ability and not the limitation, ie, by saying that someone “uses a wheelchair” rather than “is confined” or “is wheelchair‐bound”.
      • Avoid portraying people with a disability who succeed as “extraordinary” or “superhuman”. For example, overstating the achievements of athletes with a disability inadvertently suggests the original expectations were not high.

The IPC advice goes on to give some suggested avoids and use.  They include:


Avoid Use
Disabled athlete/person,
Handicapped athlete/person,
Athlete/person with disabilities
Athlete/person with a disability or Paralympian,
Place the athlete or person first rather than referring to his or her disability.
Confined to a wheelchair,
A wheelchair provides mobility and is not confining
Say uses a wheelchair

Is this really all that hard to do? Seriously? I expect better from my fellow reporters and their editors.

Laura Hale
About Laura Hale (2569 Articles)
Laura Hale is a sport journalist, specializing in Paralympic and disability sport news. Prior to helping found ParaSport-News, she spent two and a half years working as a journalist on Wikinews, a citizen journalism site. As a journalist, she has covered the 2012 Summer Paralympics in London, the 2013 IPC Alpine Skiing World Championships in La Molina, the 2014 Winter Paralympics in Sochi, and a number of other sporting events. She has additional experience with Paralympic sport having worked as a Wikipedian in Residence for the Australian and Spanish Paralympic Committees. She has a PhD in Communications from the University of Canberra.

1 Comment on Commentary: Come on sport reporters. Get it right regarding wheelchairs and people with disabilities.

  1. Excellent article and as an individual with a disability(Achondroplasia Dwarfism), thank you! I am a fellow journalist and it rattles me when I hear this terminology, especially when there are style guides that explain this to reporters.

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