Tuesday, March 13, 2018

"Why Do We Continue To Use The Redundant Phrase ‘Handicap Accessible?”

We have reserved parking spaces in shopping centers and retail stores that require a “handicapped permit” issued by a governmental entity for authorized use. In fact, there are substantial penalties for misusing them. Additionally, the phrase “handicapped accessible” is used frequently to denote entrances and restrooms that can be used by persons in wheelchairs. That being the case, why not just call them what they are – accessible?

Adding the qualifier “handicapped” as an adjective does not change the meaning of the word or the basic concept of accessible. If something is accessible, it offers no barriers, restrictions, or limitations of use. It doesn't become even more accessible by pairing it with the word handicapped. Accessible means that anyone – able-bodied, visually impaired, or mobility-limited in some way – can use the walkway, entrance, passageways, restrooms, faucets, switches, controls, and other aspects of a home or business.

Still, the practice of redundant labeling persists. Calling something accessible is all that is needed. It's a little like using the term "PIN number" for identification, when PIN means personal identification "number." Mentioning the word "number" again really is unnecessary, but it's commonly used and accepted. By the way, how acceptable is the term "handicapped" when "disabled" or a similar term seems to be preferred?

If the term "handicapped" isn't a desirable one, and isn't necessary to qualify the term "accessible," why not discontinue its use? One might be convention - we just seem to use it. Secondly, we want people to understand that we understand that we have taken special measures to address accessibility for handicapped or disable individuals.

In trying to impress people that we have created a space that anyone can use - especially people that otherwise might be challenged - we seem like we have to label our efforts to indicate that they have been done to accommodate the "handicapped" - again, a term that may not be the most desirable to use. 

Calling something accessible is sufficient - if it truly is. It means that anyone - literally anyone - that is coming or going or moving about in the home (or public space as well) can use it the same as anyone else. Even with limiting conditions that someone might have, an accessible treatment or solution accommodates them.

In creating universal design treatments, we are establishing accessible areas. At the entrance, we eliminate steps, create a sufficient space for people to wait to gain entrance into the home (whether this is their home or someone is visiting), provide a covering from the elements to protect and shield the people as they are waiting to go inside, use door hardware that can easily be grasped and used (it might even be a touchpad, bluetooth, or fingerprint reader to minimize issues that someone might have with the hands or fingers), and swing the door so that it doesn't interfere with people as they are entering through it (with it being sufficiently wide - at least 36" - and with just a minimal threshold, if any).

Once inside the home, the same planning ensues so that anyone has unfettered access and use of the dwelling, whether they live there or this is their first time being in the home. The floors, switches, controls, windows, interior doors, transitions from room-to-room (if they exist), natural lighting, decor, furniture, cabinetry, appliances, bath fixtures, and everything else about the home allow nearly everyone to use it without difficulty.

Extending to the backyard, any facilities there would be usable as well - cooking and eating areas, sitting areas around firepits, pools or spas, gardens, walkways, decks, and other aspects of the property would be available to anyone.

This is accessible - not handicap accessible - just accessible. Anyone, with or without any limitations can use the designed space.


Steve HoffackerCAPS, CEAC, SHSS, is a licensed Certified Aging In Place Specialist - Master Instructor and best-selling author of aging in place books. To learn about this and other programs for aging-in-place or universal design, visit stevehoffacker.com or call 561-685-5555. Also, check out the "Aging & Accessibility" groups on Facebook and LinkedIn.