…there are a LOT of disabled people in the world, with most estimates at somewhere between 15% and 25% of people being disabled in some way. It’s also because of the way that abled (or non-disabled) people Just Don’t Get It in a million tiny huge ways that add up and can make being their friends or partners noticeably more difficult or more tiring than being friends or partners with other disabled people.It’s not their lack of disability itself that is the problem so much as that we all live in a very disablist (ableist / anti-disabled-people / disabling) society and we’re all unlearning a load of bullshit we’ve been taught about disabled people… and those of us who are disabled tend to unlearn this stuff faster.
Because we unlearn this stuff by hard experience. And abled people have to unlearn it by listening to disabled people and treating us as the experts (in a society that constantly pushes the idea that disabled people are the last people you should ask about disability after our doctors and carers and families…) or by becoming disabled themselves and learning it the hard way.
So: What Abled People Get Wrong About Accessibility
1. Treating access as an optional extra, last minute adjustment or add-on
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had to interrupt a discussion of an event being planned to ask “But how can we make it accessible?”
2. Expecting disabled people to ask for access
This is one thing I encounter pretty much whenever I leave my flat (everyone inside my flat is disabled and my flat is arranged to suit us). Abled society from individual abled people to small groups, to huge multinational organisations..
3. Having decent disabled access and not telling anyone
I used to live near a gym and swimming pool. It had gender-neutral, wheelchair accessible changing rooms.It had both standard and Changing Places accessible bathrooms It had a hoist for the swimming pool. It had step-free access to everything and lifts to all floors.
4. Claiming to be “fully accessible”
This again follows neatly from the previous point. SO MANY places and events and groups claim on their websites or flyers to be “Fully Accessible” or “Accessible”. And don’t expand on that. What on Earth do they expect us to understand by “Fully Accessible”?
5. Assuming you know who is and who isn’t “really” disabled
And then only offering access to those people you think are “really disabled”. This is standard almost everywhere and it’s a dick move.
6. Assuming everything we need is provided
*sarcastic laughter* Ahem. So, there’s a lot of things that would make my life as a disabled person much easier and more equal with my not-currently-disabled peers. Assistive tech, support workers, physiotherapy , care workers, mobility equipment etc etc. Some of these things I’ve managed to get, none of these things are free or easy to acquire – even though the UK has free health care and free social services,
7. Assuming we all have an abled person with us at all times
Some but nowhere near all disabled people need another person with them all the time (I’m one of them!) but that other person isn’t necessarily a nondisabled person. In my experience, the people we tend to have around us aren’t nondisabled people who are paid to help us
8. Assuming That Separate is Equal
NO IT’S NOT. I can’t believe I’m still having to say this.
If your access solution is to have a special time or day or event or space for disabled people separate from a similar thing for “everyone” that isn’t as accessible… that’s not a solution and I can’t believe that I still have to say so.