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?