Monday, December 03, 2012

Nomenclature inflation strikes again

A few weeks ago, I presented an example of nomenclature inflation from the HR field, where "recruiter" had become "talent acquisition manager."  Today, another example appeared at Logan International Airport.

What would you call a person who assist patrons in wheelchairs, like the man above?  In US hospitals, we call them transporters.  In UK hospitals, they call them porters.

At Logan?

I don't know who came up with the name "mobility assistant," but it seems a bit bureaucratic to me.  (It is also a term that is used by relocation firms for the folks who make arrangements when people change jobs from one city to another.  Also, certain robots have been assigned that name.)

In raising this issue, I don't mean to take away at all from the skill and judgment it takes to be a good transporter.  Indeed--whether in the hospital setting or in public facilities like airports--a transporter has a key role.  In fact, in hospitals, transporters actually have more contact with patients than any other staff members and are often the source for really good ideas about how to make care better.  Look at this posting for a wonderful example of that.  But we didn't think, and they didn't think, that they needed to be called anything other than "transporters."

But maybe the airport folks have a reason for the term.  Feel free to comment if you know it.


Anonymous said...

I have been in a wheelchair for 20 years; i prefer to be helped by a "mobility assistant" than a "porter".
It sounds less degrading.

-- chuck

e-Patient Dave said...

I agree with your general inflation comment, but:

Five years ago when I was in a wheelchair, or on crutches or using a walker or scooter, it truly was all about mobility. No kidding. As I learned what I'd need to do to keep my job, it meant getting around, and as I learned about *that*, I was pleased inside to realize that these devices were called mobility scooters. It rang true to me.

And when my wife travels with me, sometimes involving lonnnng airport walks and long times standing in line, we ask for a wheelchair. She's not immobilized - unlike someone on a gurney she doesn't need to be transported - she truly needs the kind of help I did.

So, fwiw, in my world "mobility assistant" is genuine.

btw, our experience with Logan's is that they're kind. Sometimes they don't speak nearly good enough English, resorting to pointing and single-syllable semi-words, but most really good to work with. And the little wheelchairs they use at Logan have something sensible that most airports don't: these chairs have a luggage tray under the seat.

I wonder if somewhere there's a web guide to getting wheelchaired in airports. There are substantial differences in how you do it, from country to country. And one thing nobody ever told us (but we sure learned) was that you can't make an appointment for a chair - you get there and ask for one, and wait. Sometimes it's taken 20 minutes. So, realize - it's a free service, it really works, and you gotta allow extra time.

(The most undependable airport I've experienced, personally, is Heathrow. More than once we've been told a chair would be there any minute, when in reality there's no system making sure all requests are filled. In one case to not miss a transfer we gave up and started walking, a long way, until a gent in a turban on a cart let us flag him down. It hurt her, for real. This is an important service.)