As a non-disabled person, accessibility is something you never have to think about. Before my disability impacted me, it never crossed my mind. But that is something that needs to change.
Accessibility comes in many forms, from leniency on work deadlines, ramps, lifts, hearing loops to closed captions, access to medical treatment online, digitally, and much more. This variety of ways to accommodate accessibility is one of the reasons non-disabled people don’t do it. They don’t know where to start.
I spoke to two members of the disabled community about their experiences with accessibility.
Laura told me about her experiences on set. She explained that the production team was incredible, asking her to create a list of essential access needs, which were all provided.
“I felt very lucky because, even though it was a professional film, it was relatively low budget and time-restricted, but they wanted to make sure I was as comfortable as any of the other able-bodied actors on set.”
Her experience during university, however, was quite different;
“you have to be quite proactive when asking for accommodation, which is incredibly tiring when you’re disabled”.
Though able to get accommodations at university, none of it came easy, especially when it came to transport accommodation;
“The assessor hadn’t told the company that I required wheelchair access, their response was that they already had too many wheelchair school runs.”
Though she was grateful to receive her Disability Support Allowance, she says that the support that she needed took the entire semester to arrive, complicating her ability to learn, and participate in academic writing. Unfortunately, this is a very common experience for disabled students
One good thing about University, however, was that Laura was given a Disability and Student Wellbeing team, which allowed for a support plan to be put in place. Her tutors and practical assistant were a great source of support too. She says, “They have given me so many extensions when my health had deteriorated, offered any extra support possible and had several zoom calls with me just to check in on me.”
I also spoke to Juliana; who told me about the discrimination she faced in education in America.
“My disability began affecting me significantly throughout middle and high school. When I needed accommodations for the first time, I was shocked by the response that I got.”
Juliana continues by saying that while accommodations she was seeking were guaranteed by law, as per the Americans with Disabilities Act, that didn’t stop the discrimination;
“Teachers would question the legitimacy of my disability, asking if I was sure that I was actually sick, if I was just lazy or misdiagnosed. A science teacher questioned whether Mitochondrial Disease was something that he had to accommodate for, despite teaching what mitochondria was.”
Getting basic accommodations was an uphill battle; “It was like every adult in school was working against me, like teachers took pleasure in denying me accommodations I was legally entitled to.”
Juliana says that her experiences with accessibility in academia continued at a major university during COVID. “I remember when things first began to be put online. I thought that this was a turning point for disabled students like me. I couldn’t have been more wrong. As soon as the world decided to be done dealing with COVID, things went back to ‘normal’, but this normal wasn’t what the same, it was worse.”
Getting accessibility accommodation is a never-ending battle, where those that should win, the disabled community, rarely do.
My family and I fought hard to receive at home education, which started out with online schooling. I thought this would be a fresh start and this school made an awful lot of promises, yet fulfilled none of them. After less than a year, I was forced to drop out due to being treated differently to the other students, as their only student with a physical disability.
Many in the community have negative experiences with accessibility in education. It is common to be treated as less worthy for having access requirements, which leads to disabled people being left out of basic rights, such as education or employment.
Difficulties and struggles with accessibility sadly don’t stop with access to education, nor has it for anyone else like me who experienced ableism in education. We have to live through it every time we leave the house, go to medical appointments.
We experience it when doing practically anything.
Shops aren’t accessible, nor are cinemas, parks, gyms, or even hospitals. It is a fight to be able to do anything when you’re disabled, and not just because you’re disabled, but because of the way that the world treats your disability.
Disabled people make up a huge portion of the population. Everyone in their lifetimes, will experience or be affected by disability. So, why are we viewed as a less important part of life? Why are our access needs fobbed off, and not facilitated?
The world was funded and created by non-disabled people. It wasn’t created for us and non-disabled people refuse to remodel or adapt it for us. We live in a world where disabled people’s needs aren’t viewed as anywhere near as important as those of non-disabled people, and that is a huge part from where the problem in receiving accessibility measures stems.
It has long been time for non-disabled people to realise that the disabled community is the backbone in society, and that they need to develop empathy and willingness to accommodate their disabled counterparts.
At the end of the day, the refusal to accommodate someone is, in every way, an act of discrimination. It is time we start treating it as such. Everyone needs to start calling ableism out, not just disabled people who experience it.
We should never have to beg to live with dignity, and to be able to access the things that we need to do basic activities and have access to fundamental needs. Non-disabled people would never have to, so why do we? Something needs to change.
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