Today, December 3, is International Day of Persons with Disabilities. The theme for 2018 is about empowering people with disabilities and ensuring inclusiveness and equality. It’s a tall order for just one day. I’ve been somewhat privileged since my injury to be in a bubble of inclusiveness. I’m surrounded by family and friends who make it a priority to include me. I have a husband who does everything in his power to make sure I experience all that I can. I have this blog that is followed by people who take an interest in disability, accessibility and equality. But lately I am seeing through my bubble. I am noticing how foreign disability still is to so many who don’t have personal experience with it. I am noticing how quickly my concerns are ignored and how accessibility issues are disregarded. I am noticing how much work still needs to be done.
Advocacy is hard for me. I don’t love being seen as a voice for an entire demographic because—surprise—not all of us think the same way, and I get flustered when someone is unhappy with me. But I am all about advocating for myself and for the things that benefit accessibility and inclusivity, even if sometimes, someone disagrees with me. However, advocacy can be a disheartening process.
Some days it feels like I’m making a small difference. It feels as though I’m bringing an understanding and a fresh perspective to a small group of people—showing them why accessible features exist and how they benefit the disabled community. Other days, not so much. Other days I come across someone parked on the lines between accessible parking stalls, blatantly ignoring their purpose, and wonder why I bother. Then I remind myself that out of everyone struggling to find parking at the soccer field that day, they were the only ones who felt entitled to park there—that has to mean something.
And while these day-to-day things are irritating, what is really frustrating, is when my assessment of a situation is not heard. What’s worse yet? When I think I’ve been heard—when it seems as though my concerns are met with understanding and a call to action—only to discover that they are not. There have been two instances over the last few months where my concerns have been disregarded. Both times leaving me to believe that my access and safety is simply not as important as someone who is able-bodied.
Ramps Should Not Have Speed Bumps
There was a time that falling out of my wheelchair in public would have been one of the most embarrassing things to happen to me. Not having my husband there to help me back into my chair would have been the icing on the cake. But when it happened to me a couple of weeks ago, I wasn’t embarrassed (Okay, I was a little embarrassed—I’m not a robot!), but I was concerned.
I was at an event that advertises themselves as being completely wheelchair accessible and I was now concerned about the safety of other wheelchair users because numerous ramps were not well thought out. Case and point: I was on the ground with a scraped knee and bruised ego. But while everyone involved was most concerned that I was okay and kept asking what they could do for me, their response when I told them caught me by surprise. I told them that I was fine, but that they needed to fix the ramps. This is when I discovered they were only concerned about liability—not the true accessible nature of their event. They sat up straighter and told me that they do their best.
Cue crickets on my part.
Really? Long pieces of wood sticking out of your ramps in a dark space is doing your best? I politely mentioned again that the issue needed to be addressed and I was assured it would be.
I was happy to help them remedy the situation; It wouldn’t be hard to fix. But nobody even followed up with me. When we returned a week later, they had placed some mesh fabric over the ramps which actually made it more dangerous as now the wood is even harder to see and it doesn’t offer any buffer against the speed bumps they created. And what I don’t understand is why they don’t want to fix it. Why don’t they want to make their accessibility better? Unfortunately, I’ve had to ask myself this a lot lately as another recent adventure into advocacy left me in the same predicament: ignored.
Mud and Rocks Are Not Accessible Features.
My son started playing soccer this year. Our home field is on the artificial turf and is all wheelchair accessible. Except they are doing construction. And while the park is still in use and accessible for those without mobility issues, those with mobility issues are somewhat out of luck. Currently, my options for getting to the fields during construction are through a road of mud and gravel or down a ramp so steep it makes wheeling down it an extreme sport. If I didn’t have help, I could not watch my son play soccer.
I called the city after his first game and chatted with the man in charge of the project. He seemed very concerned. Clearly, it hadn’t even been a consideration that someone in a wheelchair may want to get down to the soccer fields. I genuinely thought he was going to get it fixed. That was two months ago. It’s just not a priority.
I am not a great advocate. I find it difficult to follow up because I think I’m being annoying and why would anyone want to help someone who is being annoying? But in order to ensure inclusiveness and equality, I have to start following up. The concerns I have are valid and need to be taken seriously. But overall, the able-bodied majority need to care. They need to see the worth of those of us who have disabilities in order to push towards meaningful change. We have just as much to contribute to the world but until the benefit of our talents and perspectives are understood, we will have an issue with inclusiveness and equality. When there is understanding there will be equal opportunity. And where there is equal opportunity, there is empowerment.