Last month, I spent a few days in Nashville for the BHMA spring meetings.  On a walk downtown I saw this door.  –>

Just your run-of-the-mill aluminum storefront entrance pair…not much to see here, right?  What caught my eye was the signage on the bottom of the glazing, directing people to the “handicapped accessible entrance” around the corner.

At first glance, I was wondering what makes the doors in the photo non-compliant with the accessibility standards.  It seems like they have enough maneuvering clearance, the door pulls and panic hardware look acceptable, and as exterior doors they are not subject to the limitations on opening force.  The closing speed on the door closers should be adjustable to within the allowable limits of the standards.  The doors look a little narrow, so maybe they don’t provide a clear opening width of 32 inches.

Looking a little closer, I’m guessing that it’s the stairway inside of the doors that resulted in the alternate entrance.  But that’s not the reason for this post.

The Rocky Mountain ADA Center has an informative blog post called The Origins of “Disability” and its Application Under the ADA.  From the article:

A related, yet less preferred word these days, “Handicapped” didn’t take on the “disabled” meaning until the early 20th century. The word handicap referred to a game called “hand in cap” that was popular around 1653 in the United Kingdom. It was a barter/betting game that involved two people exchanging items. By 1883, the word “handicap” started being used to mean “equalization” in many different areas other than sports.

The term “handicapped” was applied to disabled children by 1915 and was then used to describe all disabled persons—adults and children with physical or mental disabilities—by 1958. Today, the word “Handicapped” to describe people with disabilities is considered to be the equal of the “N” word. The word “Handicapped” is now referred to—by many within the Disability community—as the “H” word, as it brings to mind something that is being held back.

The ADA National Network has issued Guidelines for Writing About People with Disabilities, and this page contains a simple note:  Note that ‘handicapped’ is an outdated and unacceptable term to use when referring to individuals or accessible environments.

In the door and hardware industry, I think we are long overdue on removing this term from our marketing materials, presentations and classes, installation instructions, and discussions in general.  Any while we’re at it, I would also avoid saying ADA-compliant.  There is more than one accessibility standard, and the requirements are not exactly the same.  When we say ADA-compliant, we are technically saying that a product or application complies with the ADA Standards for Accessible Design (only).  In addition to state and local standards, ICC A117.1 – Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities is the accessibility standard that is most widely used during design and construction.


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