The Very Basics of Accessibility & Inclusion

Let's have a super introductory chat about accessibility & inclusion. Accessibility is about making sure that people who have a disability have access to all of the same spaces, experiences, etc that an "able person" does either with or without assistive technology/accomodations. Often, when we think about accessibility, the first thing we think about is physical access. For example, can a person with a wheelchair navigate an entrance to a building? While access is definitely important, I'd argue that it's a meaningless endeavor if spaces are not also inclusive and if we aren't thinking about access to its fullest extent. When spaces are inclusive, the people in them have everything they need to fully participate. 

Sticking with the idea of navigating a space with a wheelchair...let's imagine a store that has a wheelchair ramp, handicap accessible restrooms/parking, and all of the spaces are wide enough to navigate with a wheelchair. Physically (and technically) this space could be labeled as accessible. A person in a wheelchair would be able to get in the door and participate on some level. However, if the doors are heavy and cannot be operated electronically, if the tables/counters/spaces to check out are not at the appropriate height for navigating them in a wheelchair, if there is equipment in the aisles, if there is a second level but no elevator, etc...this space is not inclusive and it's barely accessible. The person is not able to fully participate in this space because they do not have the same access as an able bodied person.

The issues of accessibility and inclusion play out differently depending on the disability and the individual, but our culture does the bare minimum of making spaces and experiences accessible and inclusive. We rarely think about issues of access and inclusion until we are personally affected, but failing to do so excludes people living with a disability. A failure to act is an act all its own. I hope for a world where everyone is thinking about how we can be more inclusive so that people with disabilities are not constantly burdened with having to advocate for themselves or create their own accommodations. That is an emotional and mental burden that we can share in.

Here are a few very simple things you can do right now to work towards a more inclusive world: 

  • Learn more about accessibility and inclusion
  • Seek out and really deeply listen to the experiences of people living with a disability who have struggled with access and inclusion
    • One simple way to do this is to follow people living with disabilities and disability rights activists on social media- I recommend following @annieelainey & @lollardfish on Twitter as a starting point. PS- if you didn't know this, Twitter is a particularly inclusive and accessible platform compared to other forms of social media. 
  • Learn more about particular disabilities and consider the challenges you might face in navigating the world and the places you go every single day with that disability. Then think about how we can reduce those barriers. 
  • When you are in a physical space or participating in an activity, intentionally pause and ask yourself if it's truly accessible and inclusive
  • Intentionally connect to the disability community- chances are you know somebody who is living with a disability (even if you don't know they have a disability), but even if you don't- volunteer at an organization that serves people with disabilities, attend a disability related conference or event...intentionally seek out opportunities to connect. 
  • When you notice issues of inclusion and accessibility, speak out. Raise awareness, get others thinking about the same issues. The more people thinking about these things, the better and the more likely they are to change.
  • Ask questions. You don't know what you don't know and there should be zero shame associated with attempts to learn. We live in an age where information is readily available all around us. Ask questions, read books, seek answers.