Handicapped no more, say Ohio lawmakers

| October 22, 2013

A new Ohio law may soon repeal use of the word “handicapped” to refer to people with disabilities. Lawmakers are also working to remove the term from designated parking signs.

State representatives Michael Stinziano and Cheryl Grossman have pushed for the new law that will take away all forms of the word “handicap” and replace them with phrases like “person(s) with a disability” or “access/accessible/accessibility.”

“The word ‘handicapped,’ whether it appears on a sign or in Ohio Revised Code, is a pejorative reference to people with disabilities,” remarks Stinziano. “The word is obsolete and often viewed as offensive,” he continues.

New active wheelchair icon

Ohio may soon adopt the active icon designed by the Accessibility Icon Project. The new icon replaces the old rigid symbol and meets federal standards. It can be seen in New York, Texas, Massachusetts, Canada, and western Europe. Image by npr.org

Counties making progress

The change comes at a time when Franklin County, Cincinnati, Hamilton County, and other areas have started taking steps to remove handicap from the new signs.

Marci Straughter, member of the Self-Advocate Advisory Council of the Franklin County Board of Developmental Disabilities, says, “With handicap, that sounds like they’re making fun of us.” The self-advocacy group has requested Columbus and Franklin County, Ohio to stay away from using the word “handicap” when new accessibility signs are erected. Officials have agreed to remove the word handicap or handicapped from new and replacement signs for buildings, parking areas, bathrooms, etc.

Marilyn Brown, Franklin County Commissioner, remarks, “It seems like a natural for us to just continue as we change signage, to change it to be far more positive and use the contemporary verbiage.”

Handicapped? Special? Words hurt, says Ouch!

BBC’s disability website, Ouch!, reveals that people with disabilities don’t like it when someone calls them “handicapped” or “brave.” In a poll conducted by the website in 2003, about top ten worst words used around disability, the word “special” came in fifth. “It differentiates them from normal, but in a saccharine manner. Disabled people are different, but not better or more important,” says the website.

Considerate language, or political correctness gone amok?

However, some people view these words through an entirely different looking glass. Laura Laughlin, a journalist turned blogger, feels that the word “disabled” is a harsher word and sounds permanent while “handicapped” sounds a little gentler. Laura, who lives with a disability, says, “It is not correct, journalistically. But then I’m not a reporter anymore, so I don’t have to adhere to style rules. I can just write what feels right, no matter if it is proper or politically correct.”

Lydia Brown of Autistichoya.com explains that she calls herself disabled in the same spirit that she calls herself a woman, and that there is nothing wrong with the term. However, referring to the disabled as “differently-abled” is something she has strong opinions about. “I do not believe in referring to disabled people as ‘differently-abled’ because this language only serves to reinforce oppression of disabled people by systems that marginalize atypical bodies/minds.”

How to address people with disabilities, then?

Quickly evolving language renders many words obsolete and makes other words assume different meanings—at times having undesirable effect. With time, people learn what is acceptable language and what is not. “You just have to kind of figure out what offends people and what doesn’t,” says Richard Janda, a historical linguist from the Indiana University in Bloomington.

One way to acknowledge people with disabilities: using “People-First Language,” for instance, saying “child with autism” rather than “an autistic child,” so that people come first, then the disability. Saying something is “accessible” likewise implies an environment that is easy and safe to reach, enter, or perform in, without commenting on the people who might require those alterations.

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Category: Handicapped parking, State

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Ritika is a content manager for SmartSign. Her talents include research, technical writing, and losing her phone at the first chance she gets. After receiving her Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from Pune University, India, she set off to test her writing skills (still in beta mode). Now, with over three years of experience in content writing, she has produced and managed content for multiple websites (automobiles, glamour, fashion, and travel.) Presently, she helps her team of writers wrap their head around the wonderful world of signage.

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