A couple days ago I read an article in my local paper about our regional hospital moving one of its primary care clinics to a new location. The hospital spokeswoman was quoted in the article praising the new building for being, "handicapped accessible."*
First of all, that's like praising a newly built house for having doors and windows, or a new car for having a steering wheel. Or rather, it should be that obvious.
Second, it's not the worst offense in the world to use the word "handicapped," but from a professional doing a press interview it's embarrassing.
The semantic difference between "handicapped" and "disabled" isn't all that significant, and I don't really expect most people to have a firm grip on why "disabled" is the more accurate term. But, I think that the transition grace period for converting from "handicapped" to "disabled" has run out. We just don't say "handicapped" anymore. It doesn't matter why … it's just not done, and it makes the person saying "handicapped" sound out of step, like they're wearing bell bottoms.
* Note: Calling the building just plain "accessible" is fine, no qualifier needed.
Disability life, ideas, identity, culture, commentary, and politics.