“The difference between the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter–it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” -Mark Twain
A while back, I came across the ad at right via the Vintage Ads community on LiveJournal. (I’m a major fan of the vintage – especially clothes, cookbooks, and ephemera. That community is one of the places I get my ephemera fix.)
The ad, for the Zenith Radio Nurse, appeared in Child Life, a children’s magazine, in 1938. The device advertised has some very interesting history behind it. It was developed by Zenith in the years after the 1932 Lindbergh kidnapping as the world’s first baby monitor. (Note the bit of copy “if an intruder enters.”) It sold for $29.95, which, when adjusted for inflation, is about $450. “Very moderate price” my ass. But what price parental peace of mind, right?
The case for the speaker unit is a famous piece of industrial design by the Japanese-American designer Isamu Noguchi. Even if that name doesn’t ring a bell, if you’re even a passing fan of mid-century design, it’s pretty likely that you recognize this table he designed for Herman Miller.
This is part of why I love ephemera – you never know what other topics something might lead you to. Anyway, the reason I share this ad is not because of its historical significance at all – it’s because of its language. Hence Mr. Twain’s words above.
When this was posted in the Vintage Ads community, several people took offense at the word “invalid” in the headline. One person said, “They could just have well have said ‘cripple.'” And that’s where I come in.
As a real live actual capital-I invalid, I don’t take offense to the headline at all. In fact, this word is what I choose to call myself. There are a lot of words used to describe people that we’ve let fall by the wayside – including some that were seen as the sensitive choice of the day that have come later to be seen as insulting or demeaning. Some of the people in the Vintage Ads group clearly thought “invalid” was one of those words. I don’t think it belongs with that group. Here’s why.
To call me or someone like me “disabled” is insufficient. Disability is a such a big tent, and not only does that word really not tell you much about a particular person’s functioning, but most people with disabilities are far more physically able than are people with severe ME/CFS. Most people with disabilities can be present in the outside world with some accommodation. I’m not able to except in the most minor of ways with a great deal of physical assistance. And I can’t perform the tasks I’d need to be able to in order to live on my own. So I’m truly an invalid: a person who is too sick or weak to care for himself or herself.
I don’t say this to seem to feel sorry for myself, or to attempt to cause others to feel that way. Invalidism is just the way things are for me at this point, and since there is a word that fits me well, I’d rather use that more descriptive term that truly fits my situation than something non-specific that someone with no experience of what my life is like might assume is kinder or more politically correct to call me.
The best way to address someone, anyone, with a disability, is to find out how they prefer to be described, and not to assume that the word you think applies is the one they would choose.
And getting back to the Radio Nurse for a moment here: The way we handle the problem of potential kidnappers trying to spirit me away at our house is with one of those wireless doorbells, with the button next to me and the receivers plugged in other places in the house. I have a cell phone handy, too. Both are decidedly cheaper than the Radio Nurse, thanks to our good friends in China.
But I would take one of those fetching lace caps Granny up there has on to wear while I lie around the house.