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H is for Handicap


I originally ran this post during the 2012 Blogging from A-Z Challenge. My brother Nathan Aalgaard is the guest writer. Below are his thoughts on the word “Handicap” and barriers. He was present for the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act on July 26, 1990. This post is also inspired by today’s Google history post on Edward Roberts, American Activist with a disability who paved the way for others like him to attend Berkley and live independently. 
The Quote of the Day that inspired my A to Z Challenge theme –

A Word for the Day that takes on many meanings.

Quote of the Day: A writer lives in awe of words for they can be cruel or kind, and they can change their meanings right in front of you. They pick up flavors and odors like butter in a refrigerator. John Steinbeck
Word of the Day: Handicap

I asked my brother Nathan (his family name. He’s known as Nate to most of the rest of the world.) to be a guest writer for today’s word. He’s a great writer and is usually the one who’s asked to write for the newsletter at places where he works. He is now the CEO at the Freedom Resource Center for Independent Living in Fargo, ND. He writes a column: From Where I Sit, and also includes a section called: What’s wrong with this picture? which includes things like cars parked in front of the Handicap sign that should not be there.

The official term is accessible parking. Most people don’t ever hear that. It means that it complies with accessibility laws, like the ADA. Nathan Aalgaard

Thoughts on the word “handicap”

In looking up the meaning of the word “handicap” I find that it can be used both as a noun and a verb. The handicap can be a disadvantage given to equalize competition. It can also be the act of placing such a disadvantage, or predicting the outcome of some contest. Being a person with a disability, I am conscious to the sensitivities some people have to the use of the word “handicapped.” They do not want that word to define them. Disability activists have lobbied state legislatures and Congress to purge from legislation any reference to that word or similar words such as invalid, idiot, and retarded. Some people find such references highly offensive, and prefer the term people with disabilities, or similar terms.
My preference is to look at the word “handicap” as an environmental barrier. The fact that I have a disability does not in and of itself limit me. I feel that I am much more limited by the environment that has been built by and for people who do not have disabilities. In fact, if my environment is set up properly I feel that I have an equal chance to work, communicate, travel, and participate fully in my community. At this moment, I am using a headset and microphone to talk to my computer, and the software program types exactly what I’m saying. So even though I cannot move my fingers, I can type relatively fast, thus allowing me to participate equally in the task of writing.

A week or so ago I went out to lunch with my wife. In returning to my vehicle I found that someone had illegally parked in a no parking access area and blocked my entrance into my van. His inconsideration at that moment in time handicapped me from being able to enter my vehicle. Had he not created this environmental barrier, I could have easily gotten in my vehicle and driven off just like anybody else would expect to do.

Thanks, Nate, for your insightful words!

When I started pushing kids around in their strollers, I noticed even more how one step can be a barrier for someone on wheels, and that a cluttered store with too many things on the floor make for a challenging obstacle course. While I was at an Easter Brunch with my kids, a party arrived that included a woman in a wheelchair. The hostess was showing them to their table that was on an elevated area, just one step up. The woman said she could probably handle one step. I overheard them and pointed out that we were leaving. In fact, the boys had already ditched me, headed for the van, and I was waiting to pay the bill. We were in an ideal spot, right by the buffet table, no steps, no barriers.

Update: Nathan was invited to tour the new US Bank stadium in Minneapolis, MN, opening in the summer of 2016. Although people with disabilities were consulted for the project, they didn’t always listen to them. “They missed a few things,” Nathan says. You can read his assessment in his article in their newsletter on the Freedom Resources website, Nathan’s article “From Where I Sit, Taking it to the Bank.” 

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt:  Have you ever felt handicapped by your environment?

  1. Such a lovely post by you and Nate. I hold a disabled badge and it amazes me how many people park in the disabled areas, without the right to do so . I’m so looking forward to I

  2. Yep, parking in the handicapped zones is just wrong! I see it happen all the time.

  3. Wonderful post to read. All too often I have seen a car without a disabled sticker parked in a disabeld place. I think able bodied people should have more thought.

    Great H post.

  4. Sometimes! Not like Nathan, I’m sure… but definitely my environment gets in the way now and then.

    On a side note, I am so THRILLED to meet someone from Brainerd! Fargo was one of my favourite movies, ever, and you’re the first person I’ve ever come across who lives in the area! (I’m sure you’re tired of hearing that – sorry!)
    You don’t talk like Margie, do you????

  5. Isn’t the word “handicap” outdated? To my knowledge (correct me if I’m wrong), it has been replaced by the term “physically-challenged”…
    I know lots of people who have all limbs intact, but suffer with a “self-imposed physically-challenged” condition…

  6. Parking in a handicap designated spot is unforgivable to me. Keeping the parking spaces for those who need them offers the independence we all crave.

    Awesome post.


  7. Nate has it right….the environment…while in Arizona I noted that every, I mean EVERY sidewalk had wheelchair access in the whole area of Scottsdale that I covered. A simple difference to help make life more available to all.

  8. Oh, this is a great way to think about it. Thank you for the perspective shift. I think it’s so important to hear directly from people with other experiences–I had a college teacher who referred to folks like me as TABs (temporarily able bodied)–but we can sure take things for granted and forget WHY on things like the wider parking spaces.

  9. I studied universal design when I was in college and became aware of accessability issues all around. Still, no matter how well designed something is, it takes human effort and consideration to make sure it will work.

  10. A lovely post. All it takes is a little thought and consideration, something some people seem to lack.

  11. Beautiful post! I am always appalled by people who are so inconsiderate that they’ll park in a handicapped spot. One day while I was walking to my daughter’s school to pick her up, there was a woman who parked in the handicapped spot and she got out of her car to go pick up her kid from school. One of the teachers told her politely to please move her vehicle out of the handicapped spot since she was obviously not one and didn’t even have a pass, and this woman had the audacity to yell at the teacher and tell him that she’s only parking for one measly minute and she’ll be out of his hair soon. Such rudeness! I felt like slapping her for disobeying the law, and for being rude to a teacher who had every right to reprimand her. Grrr…

  12. Fantastic post, Mary! You rock. Yay Nate! We need to make folks aware. This is a great start. I see people parking in handicapped spaces who aren’t handicapped every day! It makes me steamed! Thanks Nate.

    This is the post of the day. Yay!

  13. What an interesting perspective on the word Handicap. Thank you, Nate, for sharing your thoughts with us today. Awareness and communication are so important, and your viewpoint really spotlights the issue.

  14. One of the best if most frustrating experiences I have had was being on crutches for nearly three months, banned from putting any weight on my right foot. Surprising how tiring steps can get- and a real eye opener into how the environment can be so inconsiderately arranged. I wasn’t ever deliberately inconsiderate before, but am way more vigilant now!

  15. Keep writing about it, Nate. I don’t think people always think about what they’re doing and how it impacts someone else.

  16. Great post! I always look really folks getting out of handicap, or physically challenged parking spots to see if they’re limping, at the very least. Of course, silly of me, because someone may have a heart issue and isn’t supposed to exert themself too much, thus the right to park there.

    Still, I can’t stand for anyone who really needs the space, to stuck too far out in the lot.

  17. Sounds like an incredibly worthwhile column and I love the title, Mary. Thanks for including a picture. He looks like a truly lovely individual.

  18. Heart warming and informative story by Nate. Glad he shared his picture. I can relate to him as my 47 year old daughter was injured when she was 20. Twisted brain stem. She can’t walk but she can talk very well. I’m her full time caregiver. It’s sometimes frustrating for both of us maneuvering her wheelchair through this sometimes blind-to-the-handicapped world.

    I too am in the A to Z Challenge, which is how I found you. Your theme, taken from Steinbeck, is intriguing. I need to pause sometimes and see if I am really being as kind as I should be!
    Ann Best, Author of In the Mirror & Other Memoirs

  19. Parking in a restricted zone is bad, really bad. In my area, the police will ticket an improperly parked vehicle in a heartbeat. The fine is stiff, too. As it should be.

    Nate, your writing is beautiful.

  20. Mary, seeing all your readers here makes me yearn for a wider time for blogging. Alas, I will have to settle for the small cracks. It’s 11 p.m. and I am just now able to read yours. I loved seeing your brother’s photo, reading his words. Thanks for including him! And I giggled at the comment from the gal asking about Fargo. Do we love it here? You betcha! Do we talk like Marge? Uffda! 🙂

  21. You are such a compassionate person!

  22. I remember that post!
    Yes, I’m sure navigating stores like Walmart are no fun.
    And people who park in or block those parking spaces are just rude!

  23. Deborah Jacobs says:

    Hi Mary! I can’t think of a time when I myself have felt handicapped by my environment. (Although I’ll probably think of something as soon as I hit “submit”.) But Bill’s stroke and his difficulties navigating have really opened my eyes to access and safety issues. I must have missed this post the first time around, so I’m happy you gave it another go.

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