Please help me, acolytes of politically-correct semantics
August 31, 2006 12:27 PM   Subscribe

I get the feeling that the phrase "handicapped parking" is offensive to some people. I don't think "accessible parking" will work; it sounds equivalent to "available parking". What's a better term?

This is for a web site I'm working on. We're basically asking people to contact us if they need information on... that kind of parking.

______ - accessible parking?

Thanks in advance.
posted by amtho to Society & Culture (36 answers total)
parking for the disabled
posted by machaus at 12:32 PM on August 31, 2006

"Parking for customers with disabilities" just showed up on a Google search, and I like it.
posted by occhiblu at 12:34 PM on August 31, 2006

What about something like 'stair-free' or 'ramp access' parking? (Of course, if this is a lie, don't use it.)

FWIW, the hospital I work at uses 'accessible'. You're right in that 'easily accessible' or 'accessible' seems like it means anyone can use it, but I think it is generally understood that people inquiring specifically for their limited mobility needs will know what it means.
posted by cobaltnine at 12:37 PM on August 31, 2006

How about you call it handicapped parking, and let people be offended? I mean, spade a spade and all that.

Actually, I usually call a spade an 'idiot stick' -- a stick with a spade on one end, and an idiot on the other. But then again, I live in Texas.
posted by SpecialK at 12:38 PM on August 31, 2006

The permit that allows you to use the spaces is called a Disabled Person Parking Placard, so why not use that.
posted by zeoslap at 12:40 PM on August 31, 2006

Barrier-free parking?
posted by leapingsheep at 12:45 PM on August 31, 2006

What occhiblu said. It's called "people first language." Do it that way, or use "Accessible" (which IS the preferred term).

Whatever you do make sure you don't put the word "disabled" first, as in, '"Parking for disabled customers." They are customers with disabilities!!
posted by dead_ at 12:46 PM on August 31, 2006

And if you're just trying to phrase the sentence, "Customers with disabilities who need further information about accessible parking should call..." should work.
posted by occhiblu at 12:48 PM on August 31, 2006

The Department of Justice calls these spaces "accessible" in the ADA Standards for Accessible Design.
posted by Dick Paris at 12:51 PM on August 31, 2006

You may want to say "special needs" instead of disabilities, as a lot of cities provide those temporary placards to pregnant women.
posted by MeetMegan at 12:57 PM on August 31, 2006

Special needs sounds condescending to me. It's usually used to describe children with learning disabilities.
posted by knave at 12:58 PM on August 31, 2006

Occhiblu has it, I think.

In my opinion, if you just use "accessible" and put it on a website, it's guaranteed that a percentage of the people will have no idea what you're talking about.
posted by KAS at 12:59 PM on August 31, 2006

They're all crappy ways of describing the space. Handicapped parking seems old school, accessible parking new school, the rest horribly inelegant and moronic. I mean hey, I grew up in Berkeley, so I know from sensitivity, but if political correctness does anything, it rips the soul out of language.
posted by incessant at 1:00 PM on August 31, 2006

Wheelchair-accessible parking, and wheelchair access (or barrier-free access) to the building.
There are two components to wheelchair accessibility of parking: flat access to the building, and space set aside (marked with stripes) next to the parking spot for vehicles that use a motorized lift to get an electric wheelchair out of the vehicle. Also wheelchair-accessible parking spots must be flat, because the lifts etc that move the wheelchair often require a level surface to work properly.

If you're aiming more generally than that, you can say that persons using wheelchairs, or who require other accommodations, can call for info.

There will be people who can walk but are very weak so they can't open heavy doors by themselves, or can manage one step but not a flight of stairs, or have a hard time with gravel; or people who have low vision so they'll need to know in advance how to navigate the signs in your lobby, or whatever.

If you are in the US, the Americans with Disabilities Act may give you guidance about what the standard language of any signage etc should be. Also it tells you how steep your ramp can be, etc.
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:03 PM on August 31, 2006

My dad is disabled and he uses these spaces all the time. He either calls them: "Lookit! A space! They knew I was coming! Isn't that handy?", or he calls them what they are [if technically incorrect]: disabled parking spaces.
posted by Chorus at 1:08 PM on August 31, 2006

Occiblu, that's a good phrase - I tried putting it into active voice and I kept getting something awkward, though.

current version: "We ask people with disabilities who need additional information about accessible parking to contact us."

I'd like it to say something like "Please contact us if you would like more information about _______".

This way it could be someone calling about their mother or husband (or self) and it's not in passive voice.

I could say: "Please contact us if you have a disability and need information about accessible parking."

...but that doesn't feel right, and again, it assumes you're not calling about your mom. I mean, this may seem like splitting hairs, but I'm trying hard not to be held hostage by this language issue. Can anyone help me out here?

Thanks so much for the responses so far.
posted by amtho at 1:11 PM on August 31, 2006

The actual spaces are provided by the university, and are probably just going to be not only wheelchair accessible, but closer - the main body of parking is a five minute walk away. But I don't know specifically where the spaces would be.
posted by amtho at 1:12 PM on August 31, 2006

The problem with describing it as wheelchair parking is that people with other disabilities who do not require wheelchairs may also use these spots.
posted by raedyn at 1:14 PM on August 31, 2006

Do you have a header and a sentence, or just a sentence?

Parking for Customers with Disabilities
Please contact us if you need information about accessible parking. [you've already brought up disabilities in the header, you don't need it in the sentence.]

Or else:

Contact us if you need information about parking accessible to customers with disabilities. (Or, "... to people with disabilities.")
posted by occhiblu at 1:14 PM on August 31, 2006

No header; it's just a sentence under "parking". I guess I could add one.

I like what you proposed there, though, occiblu. Thanks!
posted by amtho at 1:16 PM on August 31, 2006

"Please contact us if you would like more information about accessible parking for people with disabilities."
posted by raedyn at 1:17 PM on August 31, 2006

(I see that occhiblu essentially beat me to it)
posted by raedyn at 1:18 PM on August 31, 2006

Wheelchair-accessible spaces usually meet the needs of people who are just too weak to walk far, or have other mobility impairments.

How about: "Our facility offers both wheelchair-accessible and nearby parking spaces. [They are located...... ] If you would like [more] information about these spaces or our other accommodations for visitors with disabilities, please call the Accessibility Officer at xxx-xxxx."

I do think it's useful to include some common key words (wheelchair, disabled, handicapped, etc) because people may try to search your site for this info. I think calling it Handicapped Parking is completely okay. Whatever you call it, call it by something that will enable people to find the info about it.
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:24 PM on August 31, 2006

Genuinly disabled person here. Please, for the love god, do not say "special needs". That's one of my all time pet hates. It's on a par with someone patting me on the head and asking my parents what my name is.

Not keen on handicapped either, so I'd go for something like "parking for customers with a disability".
posted by afx237vi at 2:29 PM on August 31, 2006

My vote is for "wheelchair-accessible." It doesn't indirectly insult anyone, and I think people genereally understand that wheelchair-accessible parking is NOT reserved strictly for people with wheelchairs.
posted by Marla Singer at 2:38 PM on August 31, 2006

Additionally, I think it's worth noting that the international symbol for these parking spaces, which is usually spray painted onto them and often appears on signs in front of them depicts - guess what? - a person in a wheelchair.
posted by Marla Singer at 2:42 PM on August 31, 2006

Since the question has been answered, I'll just point out that many of my offensive in-laws call these "cripple spots".
posted by norm at 3:35 PM on August 31, 2006

in california the DMV refers to the parking placard as the 'disabled person parking placard,' but (as someone who has worked in medical offices for many years) i have never heard a patient requesting one refer to it as anything other than a 'handicapped parking placard', i mean, if a person with a disablity refers to it as such...

...i'm curious as to whether it is something that just changes in cycles...'cripple' was once common--was it always considered rude? seems 'disabled' is already out of favor...ten years from now will 'person with disability' be considered impolite?
posted by troybob at 3:57 PM on August 31, 2006

There's also the option of simply describing the spots, not the people who'll use them. As others have mentioned, ramp-accessible, wheelchair-accessible, or other terms more accurately describe the parking itself, which is the information that's most useful.
posted by anildash at 4:09 PM on August 31, 2006

My wheelchair friends call 'em "blue spots," as in "damn, someone's already parked in that blue spot," or "Oh, I think I know where there's a blue spot around here." Not helpful for a brochure, I know.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 4:54 PM on August 31, 2006

Accessible parking seems to be the most used. Disabled is the preferred term for people with disabilities (people first language gets cumbersome really fast - and people who are advocating for it are often not disabled themselves), but I rarely hear the term disabled parking. Handicapped parking isn't too bad, but some people don't like the word. Wheelchair accessible parking is simply inaccurate; not everyone who needs or uses such parking is in a wheelchair.

"Special needs", however, is just plain cringe-worthy. It's not special; it's just providing equal access.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 7:02 PM on August 31, 2006


Good question.

I believe that Politically Correct language migration arises from the caste system internal to disadvantaged (retarded, disabled, and other) groups.

Just as a person of average intelligence would take exception to being equated with a mildly retarded individual, so would a mildly retarded individual take exception to being equated with a vegetable.
posted by The Confessor at 7:30 PM on August 31, 2006

spaceman_spiff: "wheelchair accessible" refers to a specific set of physical characteristics of the parking. It will offer flat entry to the building, and some fraction of the spaces will have an extra empty space off to the side so side-lift vehicles can deploy their lifts. It's not "wheelchair-users-only" parking, it's parking that can reliably be used by wheelchair users. This means it can reliably be used by other people whose mobility impairments need similar accommodations. (Obviously, people with mobility problems don't have the same set of needs as people with sensory problems (blindness, deafness) for example.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:24 PM on August 31, 2006

spaceman_spiff: "wheelchair accessible" refers to a specific set of physical characteristics of the parking. It will offer flat entry to the building, and some fraction of the spaces will have an extra empty space off to the side so side-lift vehicles can deploy their lifts. It's not "wheelchair-users-only" parking, it's parking that can reliably be used by wheelchair users.

Accessible parking is useful for people in wheelchairs for the reasons you mentioned. But some of the standard features - nearness to the building - are not all that important to most wheelchair users (I say this as a frequent wheelchair user). The term wheelchair parking *works*, but one of the problems that the disability community has now (and granted, it's a minor one compared to some others, but it does exist) is that many people associate disability only with wheelchairs.

The practical part of that problem is when well-meaning people tell you that you shouldn't be parking in "that spot" because "you're not in a wheelchair". Most people aren't that unaware, but many are.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 10:20 PM on August 31, 2006

My sister, who has a physical disability, says she doesn't mind what they are called, as long as it is not phrased handicap parking, as this always makes her wish she could park her handicap there. She refers to them as gimp spots but I believe this is less than politically correct if you are not a person with a disability. That being said, she says she most likes the phrasing parking for those with disabilities.
posted by alltomorrowsparties at 2:25 AM on September 1, 2006

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