“There’s a world out there and it’s ready to be explored”, but how accessible is it?
by Amy Seagrave
2017 is hailed by most as being incredibly progressive. We’re as technologically advanced as we’ve ever been, socially developed, and economically robust. The world is a diverse, multi-cultural, vibrantly populated rock, hurtling through space at a speed of sixty-seven thousand miles per hour.. So many impossible acts have been faced and achieved, and a great many circumstances have aligned to make all of this possible.
So why in this modern age of social, financial, technological and medical advancement, is ableism still such a huge, and largely unnoticed, issue. Discrimination against people’s sex, gender, race, religious beliefs, age, and social status are all recognised as complex social issues that are campaigned for and widely acknowledged. Yet disability is not nearly as recognised as an important issue although affecting millions of people around the world. So why are we still living in an inaccessible world?
The world is designed predominantly for able-bodied people, however at some point it’s very likely that everyone will experience a degree of ‘The Disabled World’. Whether that’s from
- breaking a bone (hands, wrists, arms and legs are the most common) and relying on crutches and/or other people to do basic tasks for you
- becoming pregnant and then consequently being responsible for a baby in a pram, which then means steps, public transport, parking, and bathroom access are ‘yet another thing’ to plan around when leaving the house with a small child
- caring for (or becoming) an elderly member of the community, having reduced or limited mobility and requiring aids to safely move around.
Most people don’t think twice about being out in the world, using transport, going to work, doing the weekly shopping, attending appointments or meeting a friend, however for a person with a disability it becomes a problem that requires meticulous planning to achieve.
Since becoming less mobile in November 2016, I have seen firsthand how ableist I had become, how much I’d taken for granted and how almost impossible it was now to function independently in a world that caters to those with little to no health conditions. For example, the sheer lack of accessible shops, cafes and social areas is shocking. There are steps (or at least one small step) into most shops that are impossible to navigate for independent wheelchair users, heavy, nonautomatic doors to coffee shops, zero wheelchair access in shop changing rooms (if we could actually gain access into any of them in the first place) or seating for those requiring mobility aids and who are unable to stand for long periods of time. I’ve found queuing is near impossible because of narrow queueing areas and having no space to manoeuvre yourself around cordoned off till queues.
“A disability is a condition not an identity, we must learn to separate the two”
– ROBERT M. HENSEL
Whenever there’s a new place to go there has to be extensive online research as to accessibility, phone calls beforehand to check distances from the car park to where the activity is taking place, enquiries about seating, ramps, and assisted doors. There are very few supportive chairs in any place outside of the home, and for those who manage to become employed, even in the workplaces, lifts and disabled access bathrooms aren’t always accessible or readily available. The prospect of doing food shopping becomes incredibly daunting because there are no wheelchair adapted trolleys so you can’t push yourself and a trolley at the same time. Doing basic daily tasks become impossible chores that you can’t manage independently. You become reliant on family and friends, and now you and your lifestyle feel like a burden. So not only are you physically incapacitated, but now you’re emotionally compromised too.
I’ve personally experienced:
- Cars parked so far onto the pavement a wheelchair can’t pass it,
- A completely inaccessible benefits assessment centre, with heavy, non-automated, non power-assisted, outward opening doors,
- Bus drivers continuing their route before having a chance to get to a seat although my mobility aid was clearly visible,
- Able-bodied members of the public sitting in disabled seating, and refusing to give up their seating to others clearly in greater need,
- Able-bodied members of the public using disabled bathrooms,
- Uneven pavements and walkways, no dips in the pavement to get a wheelchair across a road, and a lack of ramps and handrails to places above ground floor.
Of course not all disabilities are physical and can create just as much of a hinderance to daily life as those with mobility problems, and are just as overlooked by a primarily ableist society.
I’m not sure if the world is out of touch with reality enough to think that disabled and less-abled people don’t exist outside of their houses. We do. We exist everywhere that you exist, but the reason you may not see us is because nothing is designed for us to be welcome there. We want to shop for our meals like you do, we want to shop for clothes and gifts and spend time browsing for makeup and shoes, we want to grab a drink and a cake from a coffee shop whilst we shelter from the rain or read a book, or catch up with a friend. We want to go to work, go to doctors appointments, get our hair cut, live and thrive out in a world that accommodates and is safe for us.
We exist. Notice us. Fight with us. Adapt for us. Welcome us. It feels that we are not welcome in your world. Our money is just as good as yours, and your businesses miss out on it. Our company is as good, and what we have to offer is just as important. There is a whole invisible community that you only see when you become a part of it.
Build it, and they will come.