I read an article recently that resonated with something I’ve been thinking about and advocating a lot over the years. Check it out: Disabled people don’t need so many fancy new gadgets. We just need more ramps. (https://www.vox.com/first-person/2019/4/30/18523006/disabled-wheelchair-access-ramps-stair-climbing?fbclid=IwAR2xLAaU8kfimefJtSHK2qhvHjPcBpVETv7-j-LfhWu8fkKAiirVJsVHeUQ)
For those who are time poor, essentially the article discusses the reality between what society thinks people with disabilities need, versus what people with disabilities actually need.
One of my favourite quotes: “Nondisabled people excitedly circulate the new gadget, hailing it as a win for accessibility. Disabled people, meanwhile, roll their eyes.”
I’ve been passionate about this for awhile now, because there’s really quite a simple solution to the ‘problem’... JUST ASK US!
Now, by no means am I trying to shame those generous people in the community who are trying to do the right thing. What I am trying to achieve is more open, honest conversations and less wasted resources.
Even as a person with a disability, I don’t begin to assume I know what’s best for someone who has a hearing impairment, cognitive issues or other challenges. No, I ask them. They have their own everyday struggles – some we may share, and some I would never have been aware of had I not asked.
The point is, I would never know unless I asked.
One of the biggest issues people with disabilities face is accessibility. Currently, there is no overarching regulator or code of practice to ensure accessibility is enacted; rather, it is down to individuals and/or organisations to do the ‘right thing’ – and unfortunately, when not consulted, the ‘right thing’ can often lead to access Russian roulette.
As I said, sometimes their intentions come from the right place. But the way they go about it is wrong – there’s no consultation with the disability sector on their needs or regulator in place to ensure that the legislated standards are enforced. What’s that old saying about assumption? 'Don’t make a ...'
For example, there is a building (and I won’t name names) that has been designed and constructed with all the bells and whistles of accessibility. They’ve done a great job at considering what it is people like myself need to enter, exit and move around the building.
BUT – and this is a big but – the building is on an extremely steep road with little-to-no parking available nearby. Kind of difficult to even get to the building as a person who moves around on wheels.
Again, I’m not shaming them for trying to do the right thing. Rather, it’s an example of my overarching point; more consultation is required for the bigger picture. All we want (and I’m taking the liberty of speaking on behalf of my fellow limited abilities folk) is to be consulted. There’s no shame in asking us, we don’t bite!
Someone who is moving in the right direction is the City of Bunbury. They have created a committee helping to advise council on disabled accessibility best practices, with the view these will be implemented as part of design planning approvals in a co-design model.
This is so important because the City of Bunbury are taking it upon themselves to implement an overarching strategy to ensure future buildings are putting accessibility into practice. It’s not an afterthought or a fix-it-later solution. They’re taking the steps to address any issues up front. For someone with a disability, it’s incredibly exciting and heartwarming that our demographic is finally being recognised and thought of. It’s a wonderful act of inclusion that I would love to see other local councils and, eventually, State and Federal Governments also implement.
So next time you come face-to-face with someone with a disability, don’t assume you know what’s best for them. Just ask. Trust me, there’s less embarrassment about asking than awkwardly doing something for someone they don’t need or want.