When does accessible mean accessible?

Our world was not created for those with disabilities. In recent years, vast improvements have been made, but realistically we as a society, still have a long way to go.

The “Social Model of Disability” proposes that it is our environment that makes us disabled and when it comes to accessibility, I can’t help but agree. People with disabilities are faced with accessibility conundrums daily and these are often very unpredictable.

I believe access to our environment could and should be made easier because not only are we faced with an ageing population who will benefit from these adjustments too, but no one is guaranteed excellent health forever.

I understand for many people, it might be hard to grasp the challenges faced by those with disabilities, because they haven’t seen these first hand or haven’t had any reason to consider these type of scenarios before. However, I wonder, how can we raise awareness of accessibility, when the very lack of accessibility, prevents us from getting out there and raising awareness in the first place?

Similarly, when someone sees us struggling to contend with our environment, this could only feed into the harmful view that our difference means we are to be pitied or we are lesser.

I can only speak from the perspective of a wheelchair user, but consider this:

  • Trying to use the accessible fire exit but it has a step down to the ramp.
  • Trying to negotiate the accessible bathroom packed with boxes, high chairs and tools.
  • Trying to “fit in” as a new student but only being able to sit in the very front row of a lecture hall.
  • Trying to dodge the sandwich-boards on the pavement, cars parked on drop-down kerb or cars parked on the striped boxes of an accessible car parking space.
  • Trying to book an accessible hotel room, only to be told it can’t be guaranteed until check in. Or trying to book an accessible family room for that matter.
  • Trying to find a standard sized table in amongst high tables and booths.
  • Trying to move around the many clothing rails on a shop floor or trying to speed-dress because the accessible changing room is occupied by someone who isn’t a wheelchair user.
  • Trying to get public transport when you know the accessible space might not be available, even with pre-booked assistance. Or when that space is occupied by a pram or a bike.
  • Trying to go to a gig but you have to wait until the accessible line opens and then you can only purchase a maximum of 2 tickets.
  • Trying to hold onto your things whilst opening the door at the same time because there is no push button access or worse still, “only one step”.

Does this sound familiar to you? I’m aware the above list might sound like a list of complaints, but this article is not meant to be like that at all. Instead, I just want to paint a picture of our daily realities when accessibility is poor. Everybody has challenges in life but when these challenges can be made easier, should we not be trying to do this?

Often, these situations whilst frustrating are undeniably funny as you think “what were they thinking when they designed it this way” or “what next?” (The interesting choice of pedal bins in accessible bathrooms for instance…). But other times, sadly they make me feel useless and embarrassed.

Don’t get wrong on many, if not all of the above occasions, I have been able to rely on the kindness of a stranger to help me out. However, what if we didn’t have to? What if true accessibility was the norm? What if accessibility wasn’t something that was considered but instead it was the starting point?

Current reasonable adjustments, while helpful are often underpinned by financial constraints and they tend to adopt a “one size fits all” approach, but what if you don’t fit the typical mould?

I believe, poor accessibility feeds isolation and dehumanisation. True accessibility offers inclusion, dignity and respect. There’s no denying that getting accessibility “right” can make someone’s life extraordinarily better.

Picture a world filled with ramps, changing places toilets, audio guides, sign language visuals and ear defenders. It looks good, doesn’t it?

24 thoughts on “When does accessible mean accessible?

  1. You’re absolutely right. In my last job a new space had been designed with disabled lifts to navigate a small number of steps. But to get to them you had to navigate outward opening fire doors with handles too high for a wheelchair user. No one spotted the problem when it should have been totally obvious. Things have changed so much in the past two decades or so, but until all design projects are looked at from the perspective of a person with disability (I hope that is still the accepted term) silly mistakes will be made that cause awkwardness and frustration for those in wheelchairs.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I can relate so much to this.
    This is something that I embarrassingly never thought about too much because I naively thought accessible meant accessible. It’s only now that I am actually one of these invisible people that I realise.

    Who designs these places? Because it certainly isn’t the people who have to use them.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Can definitely relate to this, when then designed places shops, ect. Well anything really they should of thought about disabled people aswell on how they would access this aswell. And don’t get my started on disabled access taxis. It’s all a bloody joke, with having a disabled little girl who is wheelchair dependent. It really does wind me up with the daily struggles that you can have. Don’t you think we have enough worries and struggles to deal with looking after the disabled people, then you get stupid things like door ways and other things like that to wind you up when things like this should get taken into consideration when anything is built or opened for the first time.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. If you live in a rural town, as I do, it’s very difficult. I’m told the buildings were built years ago and not accessible to people in wheelchairs. Cedar Key Fl. Is very inaccessible to restaurants being told the town was developed in the 50s. Many rural places in N. Fl. are that way.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It’s really disappointing that you have to face these obstacles.
    We’re glad you are writing to increase awareness and to help finding solutions.
    – The Handy journal

    Liked by 1 person

  6. You’re so right and its awful that you have to put up with these kinds of things. I think that more businesses should consult actual wheelchair users, for example, to find out what would make life easier and safer for them xxx

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I love your perspective and admire your courage to raise/increase awareness about this issue! It is a common problem that not a lot of people are aware of.. some may be aware of it but they probably think it’s not a big deal. It’s already an issue in big cities but it’s worse in small/rural towns!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. This is something I learnt the hard way early last year. My daughter ended up needing a wheelchair temporarily and it is shocking how many places are not able to accommodate people that are wheelchair bound. The problem is awareness so posts like this are great as they highlight the fact that more needs to be done.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I couldn’t agree more! In the last few years I have noticed more and more how we need to create a more disability friendly environment. This is a problem that people need to know about. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Thanks for sharing this and helping raise more awareness about the issues faced! I know places are slowly catching up with making things and places more accessible there is still such a long way to go!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. It is sad that many places just don’t accommodate different disabilities, I was really impressed to see that M&S toilets have Left/Right arm transfer doors, aspects of disability which most people don’t realize exists. Great ideas raised in this post xx

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Just when I was trying to get around with a buggy it was already challenging at many places – I can imagine that how hard it is for wheelchair users, I’m always stunned how so many public places is still not made accessible with a wheelchair.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I can’t even begin to imagine how tough it must be when everywhere is so busy and places aren’t properly accessible x


  14. I wish instead of these things making you feel bad we should all be angry that they are even happening. And the sad answer to “What were they thinking when they designed this?” is that they didn’t think at all. They shouldn’t get away with it. Sadly, many people only think about things that concern themselves.
    I noticed a lot of things since moving to Greece because even for me it’s a daily struggle to cross the street or even walk on the sidewalk because of the bad condition and because people park their cars everywhere. It’s no wonder that in almost five years of living here I have yet to see a wheelchair user! This is terrifying, and as a foreigner, I don’t even know what I can do other than bring up this issue in conversations. That it’s not just me being uptight when I complain about cars being parked everywhere but that it effectively stops people from ever leaving their HOMES!

    Liked by 1 person

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