Accessible ???

Wordsmyth

Senior Member
Native language: English (BrE)
I was in the UK recently with a French colleague who wanted to visit an aviation museum, but finally decided not to because of what was written on their publicity flyer: "All exhibits are now accessible except for aircraft interiors."

I thought it a little odd that they'd put photos of these interior exhibits in the flyer, only to tell you that you couldn't visit them; so I called the museum. I was told that he'd be fine if he wasn't in a wheelchair.

When I said that there was no reference to 'wheelchair access' or 'reduced mobility' anywhere in their flyer, I was told that the word "accessible" always means "accessible to wheelchairs", so you don't need to specify that!:eek: (Obviously the writers of major dictionaries haven't yet caught up with that very restrictive definition!;))

So here's my question. Would anyone agree with the museum employee that "accessible" would systematically be understood as "accessible to wheelchairs" (even if there's no other mention of restricted mobility)? Is this a case of a useful word now becoming unusable in all except one specific context?

Ws
 
  • joanvillafane

    Senior Member
    U.S. English
    Well, I think it was a gradual process from "handicapped accessible" to "accessible." I agree with you that the museum brochure was unclear, but I also have seen "accessible" used in this way.
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    I wouldn't think that a museum exhibit being accessible meant that renovations were complete. Available, open, re-opened... but not accessible. I can't imagine a sign saying "Sorry, this exhibit is inaccessible due to renovations".
     
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    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    ... Would anyone agree with the museum employee that "accessible" would systematically be understood as "accessible to wheelchairs" (even if there's no other mention of restricted mobility)?...
    Yes, I'd have automatically understood it, in that context, as implying "wheelchair-accessible", Ws: I see it as a sort of shorthand.

    You might be interested in the Wiki article "Accessibility" - it begins
    Accessibility refers to the design of products, devices, services, or environments for people with disabilities.[1] The concept of accessible design ensures both “direct access” (i.e. unassisted) and "indirect access" meaning compatibility with a person's assistive technology (for example, computer screen readers).​
     

    sdgraham

    Senior Member
    USA English
    So here's my question. Would anyone agree with the museum employee that "accessible" would systematically be understood as "accessible to wheelchairs" (even if there's no other mention of restricted mobility)?
    I do not. :mad:
    Is this a case of a useful word now becoming unusable in all except one specific context?
    At least where clueless museum employees and others of that ilk are concerned, absolutely.:mad:
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    I guess I fall under "others of that ilk". :( Many words are context-sensitive. To me, if we are talking about a museum, "accessible" means "accessible to all, including those with limited mobility or confined to wheelchairs". It means something different if we are talking about a cave, a manager or a website.

    From the British Museum website on the page titled "Access":

    http://www.britishmuseum.org/visiting/access.aspx
    The majority of galleries and all special exhibitions are fully accessible.

    There are accessible toilets in the Great Court, the Ford Centre for Young Visitors, the Clore Education Centre and to the north of Room 66.
     
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    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    I hope you're not suggesting I'm clueless, sdg!:p

    But seriously, just because "accessible" is used to mean "accessible to people with disabilities", that doesn't mean it can't be used in other contexts....

    -------

    Cross-posted with James - with whom I agree 100%.
     

    Wordsmyth

    Senior Member
    Native language: English (BrE)
    Thanks, everyone. That looks like a count of about two 'yes' and four 'no', in answer to my first question (in this context anyway). At least I'm reassured that I'm not alone.;)

    I do take the point about context, and I'm sure there are some cases where it would be unambiguous, but where the dividing line falls seems debatable:
    To me, if we are talking about a museum, "accessible" means "accessible to all, including those with limited mobility or confined to wheelchairs". It means something different if we are talking about a cave [...]
    If I read, in a publicity document for a cave that you can visit, "The third chamber will be accessible next year", I'd now be at a loss to know whether it meant 'open to visitors' or 'accessible to wheelchairs'.
    I can't imagine a sign saying "Sorry, this exhibit is inaccessible due to renovations".
    But surely, James, if "this exhibit is accessible" means to you that it can be visited by people with limited mobility, wouldn't "this exhibit is inaccessible" mean that those people can't get to it (which might well be the case, owing to renovation work), but that fully mobile people could still visit it? Or does this new, specific definition of "accessible" not have a negative form?:p

    (Maybe the Plain English Campaign should get their teeth into this one: they'd probably suggest "easy to get to" and "easy to get to in a wheelchair".:D)

    Ws
     

    sdgraham

    Senior Member
    USA English
    But seriously, just because "accessible" is used to mean "accessible to people with disabilities", that doesn't mean it can't be used in other contexts....
    With terse sentences, such as in the OP, how do you know when it has the traditional meaning, such as in our dictionary, or the new touchy-feeley euphemism?:rolleyes:
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    With terse sentences, such as in the OP, how do you know when it has the traditional meaning, such as in our dictionary, or the new touchy-feeley euphemism?:rolleyes:
    I wouldn't know. That one is particularly ambiguous and confusing. I certainly understand why Wordsmyth had a problem with it. However, that wasn't the question Wordsmyth posed. The question was:

    "Would anyone agree with the museum employee that "accessible" would systematically be understood as "accessible to wheelchairs" (even if there's no other mention of restricted mobility)?"

    Yes, when talking about public buildings I would say that it is systematically used to mean "accessible to wheelchairs, scooters and those with limited mobility" or, for the U.S.A., "meets the standards of accessibility laid out in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)."
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    And again I agree with James (mutatis mutandis).

    And I wouldn't call "accessible" meaning "accessible to disabled people" a
    .. new touchy-feeley euphemism
    As I said before, I see it simply as shorthand.
     

    Wordsmyth

    Senior Member
    Native language: English (BrE)
    Thanks again, all. At least I'm now forewarned that it's a word that can't always be taken at face value. (Maybe I'll tuck it away in the same corner of my mind as "alarmed" — at least when it comes to public buildings.;))

    Ws
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    I guess that most of those responding to this thread haven't spent much time with wheelchair-users. It sensitises you to both environmental issues - I still hate high kerbs!:D - and linguistic ones. If contributors to this thread haven't come across "accessible" meaning "accessible to disabled people", that's probably because they haven't had occasion to....
     
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    sdgraham

    Senior Member
    USA English
    The question was whether "accessible" always means "accessible to wheelchairs" It is indeed used that way, particularly in American hotel/motel rooms, but I find the usage in WS' post confusing.

    As with Dale Texas, my first reading was that exhibits were inaccessible ... or does that now refer only to wheelchairs as well? :rolleyes:

    As an added observation, I certainly don't see any wheelchair photos on this website.;)

    Mount Sidley, Antarctica's highest volcano accessible to climbers.

    Regarding sensitivity about disabilities, I point out that while I don't require a wheelchair, I am approaching terminal velocity on life's downhill run :( and frequently use a cane and always take lifts/elevators.:oops:
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    I think that's taking always a little too literally. Don't you think he meant within the context of the flyer about a museum?

    And it's not just wheelchairs. Accessibility also has to do with scooters, walkers, canes and other assistive devices. There are places where it might be possible to navigate with a wheelchair and a strong companion but a scooter just couldn't make it.

    You can harrumph all you want about it. I enjoy a good harrumph from time to time. The fact is, there are many, many examples of "accessible" being used in this fashion in the context of a public building.
     
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    JustKate

    Moderate Mod
    Yes, when talking about public buildings I would say that it is systematically used to mean "accessible to wheelchairs, scooters and those with limited mobility" or, for the U.S.A., "meets the standards of accessibility laid out in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)."
    That is how I would interpret it as well.

    Let me put it this way: If the museum or other public building meant some other sort of accessibility problem, they'd need to explain it because I'd assume the "not accessible to those with limited mobility" meaning unless specifically told otherwise.
     

    Juhasz

    Senior Member
    English - United States
    It means something different if we are talking about a cave, a manager or a website.
    (emphasis added)

    Actually, "accessibility" means pretty much the same thing in the context of web design - obviously not that they are accessible to those with mobility impairments, but "meets the standards of accessibility laid out in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)."

    Here's what the World Wide Web Consortium says about accessibility: http://www.w3.org/standards/webdesign/accessibility

    As for this being a specific meaning of accessible, I'd say it's just the opposite. That is, the idea is that the word should mean accessible in the most general way. Look at what the Library of Congress says about it's facilities, "Each of the Library's buildings has accessible entrances and restrooms." You might at first read this statement and think, gee, the entrances are accessible? What other kind of entrances could they have? If something is an entrance, how could it be inaccessible? Which is exactly the point. For something to be referred as accessible without any modifies should mean that it is accessible to everyone, or accessible in the most general way possible.
     

    Linkway

    Senior Member
    British English
    Although that museum notice could have been worded better, I think that the use of "accessible" in that context should be understandable as meaning inaccessible to wheelchair users AND OTHERS with mobility issues such as the dependence on crutches or callipers, or inability to climb a ladder (perhaps) or excessive body size. Arguably, even issues such as claustrophobia could be relevant.

    It is quite wrong, in fact plain unthinking or ignorant, to equate "accessibility" with wheelchair access alone; within the context of equal opportunities, accessibility is concerned with hearing, vision, manual dexterity, and various other abilities/disabilities not mobility alone.

    In the context of website design, "accessible" and "accessibility" have very specific uses regarding ways in which the website can be more usable or less usable by people with a range of abilities.

    In that context, "accessibility" has nothing to do with wheelchairs.

    It includes, for example:

    --- using suitable font sizes;

    --- avoiding poor contrast between foreground and background;

    --- avoiding certain colour combinations (such as red/green, being the most common form of colour-blindness among men);

    --- ensuring that the textual information is "machine-readable" (eg not only in graphical form);

    --- the extent to which manual dexterity is needed eg to navigate the site or to fill in a form on the site.


    I've just seen Juhasz's eloquent comments and concur 100%.

    I wish I'd seen them first! :thumbsup::thumbsup::thumbsup:
     

    Wordsmyth

    Senior Member
    Native language: English (BrE)
    I think that's taking always a little too literally. Don't you think he meant within the context of the flyer about a museum?
    Actually, it was clear to me that the museum employee really did think that the word "accessible" had only the disability-related meaning (in any context). At one point in the conversation he told me, rather snottily, that he'd never seen it used anywhere to mean anything else. That's why I posted my question in #1 (and used the word 'systematically'): not to know whether it's sometimes used that way, but to find out whether "accessible" has gone (or is in the process of going) the way of "gay", for instance.

    While no one here has suggested that it's gone quite that far, the employee sounded pretty young to me, so it made me wonder whether this is the beginning of a widespread shift (or narrowing) of meaning.
    It is quite wrong, in fact plain unthinking or ignorant, to equate "accessibility" with wheelchair access alone;
    I guess that would make the museum employee plain unthinking or ignorant;), because that's exactly what he did! If there is a narrowing of meaning under way, maybe it's gone further than you'd like, Linkway. I wonder whether the museum's exhibits have all their display information in large font and braille (the guy only mentioned wheelchairs).

    I'm tempted to suggest that in instances where it's not immediately obvious (and I'd include that museum flyer), writers might put "accessible to all visitors" or "fully accessible". But I fear that some legal eagle might then find a case where that's not true, and sue the pants off the management!:(

    Ws
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    Actually, it was clear to me that the museum employee really did think that the word "accessible" had only the disability-related meaning (in any context). At one point in the conversation he told me, rather snottily, that he'd never seen it used anywhere to mean anything else. That's why I posted my question in #1 (and used the word 'systematically'): not to know whether it's sometimes used that way, but to find out whether "accessible" has gone (or is in the process of going) the way of "gay", for instance.

    While no one here has suggested that it's gone quite that far, the employee sounded pretty young to me, so it made me wonder whether this is the beginning of a widespread shift (or narrowing) of meaning.
    That does sound... uninformed, to say the least. Sometimes we make assumptions when we are younger that get beaten out of us as we go through life. Just because the museum employee thinks this now doesn't necessarily mean that assumption will carry throughout life. We can always hope. :)
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    ... At one point in the conversation he told me, rather snottily, that he'd never seen it used anywhere to mean anything else. ...
    It's intriguing that the museum employee should think "accessible" always means "accessible to people with disabilities".

    He's wrong, of course; but his heart's in the right place!
     

    srk

    Senior Member
    English - US
    ...his heart's in the right place!
    I'm not so sure.* Snots always have displaced hearts. He was being high-handed, and what he said just happened to be in harmony with the views of some people whose hearts are in the right place.

    *English-Only-Forum-speak for "That's just wrong."
     
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