our spaces, public and private, are made for people that think, communicate, move, and exist in specific ways. if someone doesn’t fit the expectations of how to do these things, we think about them in a different way. sometimes we say that they have a disability. sometimes we accommodate them, sometimes we don’t. what we think of as a person with a disability is not entirely accurate.
disabilities can look like a lot of different things, and it’s time to broaden our image and ideas of ability, so we can create spaces accessible to everyone.
so, everyone has things they can do and can’t do. people use resources to help them do things like wheelchairs, crutches, prosthetics, medication, hearing aids, or even glasses. these tools might make it difficult for people to be in environments that aren’t built for their equipment. a common example is elevators or wheelchair ramps. through laws and public awareness, we made it required for buildings to be accessible my someone who is using a wheelchair or other mobility devices.
there’s still major problems, though, with physical accessibility (here’s just one example from Yale: http://yaledailynews.com/blog/2015/02/24/wheelchair-accessibility-leaves-much-to-be-desired/).
and there are also problems with types of inaccessibility that people don’t often think about. people with learning disabilities, for example, might require different ways of teaching or test-taking. people with PTSD, anxiety, or other mental health conditions may be unable to exist in spaces with too much noise, lights, too many people, or certain social conditions. people with multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) can suffer severe irritation around any sort of chemical or fragrance, and public spaces can be impossible for them to navigate. People with chronic fatigue or chronic pain might not be able to participate in physical activity for very long. these are just a few conditions that should be considered when creating accessible spaces, and there are many more.
visible and invisible disabilities prevent people from getting quality education, holding jobs, and even performing everyday tasks. people who don’t have anything they think of as a disability can often see this as an issue that doesn’t relate to them. however, most people will have a disability at one point in their life: whether permanent or temporary, like after a surgery or injury. despite everyone having differing levels of ability, we still think of a specific kind of able-bodied person as “normal”.
disabilities, especially mental illnesses, are heavily stigmatized and it often prevents people from seeking help. people with disabilities are affected differently because of their other identities. overall, we need to take a step back, and stop limiting our image of people with disabilities to one stereotype. people who use wheelchairs need to be accommodated, but there are many other people out there, too.
Here’s some resources.
Invisible disabilities: https://invisibledisabilities.org/
Disability news & info: http://www.disabled-world.com/
Disability as it intersects with other identities: http://disabilityintersections.com/