Downplaying Disability Can Cause Accessibility Oversight

In a previous post, “DISABLED/DISABILITY- The ‘D’ Word is Not a 4 Letter Word!”, I discussed the importance of acknowledging and understanding a person’s disability. When we refer to disability as ‘handicapable’, ‘differently-abled’. ‘disAbility’, etc., we are essentially diminishing a person’s disabilities and only focussing on their abilities. While this sounds like a positive thing for those without disabilities, this situation can actucally cause oversight of the accommodation needs of disabled people. People with disabilities many times require some sort of accommodations in order to participate in certain events. Although a person who is disabled may have certain accessibility or accommodation needs, this does not mean that they should be excluded from events. However, because of a lack of accessibility in many public places, events and homes, people with disabilities are often left out of enjoying times out with friends or family. This can lead to a lack of inclusion causing isolation which can lead to depression and a lack of self worth for the disabled person.

You should always make an effort to see the person behind the disability, but never see the person and NOT the disability because the disability is a part of the person. Picture description: Picture of four people outlines standing with a shadow of the international wheelchair sign that reads “See the Person Not the Disability”.

Not acknowledging someone’s disability can lead to overlooking their potential accessibility needs. Many people without disabilities believe that disabled people are burdened by their disability, when in reality we are mostly burdened by inaccessibility and lack of appropriate accommodations. People with physical disabilities have to plan much harder to take trips, go to events, or even have a date night out with our significant other. We have to ensure that the venue is accessible, they have accessible parking, they have accessible bathrooms, etc. If a disabled person wants to take a vacation they have to think of the distance to the destination, will they have to fly, will the airline take proper care of their medical equipment, will the hotel be accessible, will the venues to which they wish to visit be accessible? People with sensory issues must think about whether or not the venue or event will be sensitive to their sensory needs. There are many things that a person with a disability must think about when planning a trip or even just a night out. Many times, even with the best planning, events are ruined due to a lack of accessibility or accommodation because the individuals without disabilities say that their establishment or event is accessible, but in reality it is not. Accessibility means different things to different people, and many times this can lead to misunderstanding of how accessible the venue actually is.

Picture description: Door with a piece of paper in the window that reads ‘Wheelchair ramp available. Please ask at counter”. Shows a drawn picture I’d a ramp underneath.

When people without disabilities fail to see the ‘DIS’ in the disability, we often times are invited to events that are not accessible to us. We show up thinking that they have thought of our needs knowing that they understand our accessibility requirements, but then find out that they did not think of those things and our evening is cut short. This can often times lead to feelings of being a burden or feelings of being left out for the disabled person. These are not fun feelings to have. If our world around us were more accessible, then the disability wouldn’t necessarily be as much of a burden on us as many would think. The biggest burden to living with a disability is living in an inaccessible world that chooses not to include us. It’s more devastating when we are invited to events that we believe are accessible, and find out that we were an oversight and not fully thought of prior to asking us to attend. When this occurs, not only are our surroundings inaccessible, we find that the people we trust to help us ensure accessibility have overlooked our accommodation needs. These are the moments that hurt the most as a person with a physical disability.

Picture description: Concrete hallway with a sign above it that reads “Stairs to elevator”.

To help the disabled community, those without disabilities need to become more aware of accessibility and accommodation needs of the disabled community. This means educating yourselves about different disabilities and learning how to make your buildings, venues and events more accessible for your patrons with disabilities. If you are friends with someone who has a disability, take the time to learn about their accessibility or accommodation needs. Ask questions and begin to see the world around you through their eyes. Learn how you can help improve the accessibility for your friends. When you ask your friends to accompany you to events, make sure that the event is an accessible event that will accommodate their needs prior to asking them to join you. If events you wish to attend are not accessible, that does not mean you can’t go and enjoy them; however, don’t forget about your friend either. Make time to visit with your disabled friends. Do your best to try to find activities you can all enjoy so that your disabled friends can feel included and not isolated from the rest of society.

Picture Description: small boy holding an ice cream cone sitting at a table that reads, “Change your thoughts and you’ll change your world.”

If your friend has a chronic illness that can cause drastic variations in their abilities from day to day, don’t just stop inviting them to activities even though they may have had to cancel in the past due to their illness. Sometimes, people with disabilities or chronic illnesses may not be able to attend all the activities to which they are invited, but that does not mean that they don’t wish they could. If you simply stop inviting them to participate in activities with you, then they begin to feel left out, isolated, and alone which are feelings nobody wants to feel. Make sure to keep your friendship active by asking them to join you even if they are unable. This makes them at least feel included and thought about. When they are unable to join you due to a flair up or complication with their disability, make time to go see them and let them know that you are still there for them and you care.

Picture description: slide that says “Impact of Social Isolation”. Physical: has been linked to poor health, alcohol and substance use, and suicidal thoughts. Emotional: may result in reduced confidence in oneself, feelings of diminished self-worth, despair, depression, and worthlessness. Social isolation is one of the strongest predictors of depression later in life. Cognitive (mental): May experience a shortened attention span or forgetfulness as they may not see any reason or opportunity to remain aware and alert.

By taking away the ‘Dis’ from disability, and using other terms to describe those with disabilities, we are setting ourselves up to forget about the accessibility and accommodation needs of those individuals. This can create situations where the disabled person feels as if their needs are not considered, and they have been an afterthought. Nobody wants to feel like an afterthought. Nobody wants to have their needs overlooked. Nobody wants to have their evening cut short because their needs were not thought of at an activity to which they were invited. Let’s continue to educate ourselves on the needs of all people with disabilities, and continue to urge businesses and organizations to start thinking about the needs of those with disabilities. Until accessibility and accommodation needs become less of a burden, our disabilities will always be at the forefront of all of our activity planning. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to live in a world where accessibility was never an issue, and people with disabilities could just live their lives more easily like those without disabilities?

Picture description: sign that reads “I have a disability yes that is true but all that really means is I may have to take a slightly different path than you.”

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