Accessibility

Image by Frida Castelli

I got really annoyed at the pharmacy yesterday, because this woman and I got to the cash at basically the same time, and she edged me out to get into line first. This, despite that I was clearly only buying one thing and she was buying about 10 things, one of which didn’t have a price tag and required a price check and another for which she was using a coupon. I waited behind her for 10 minutes and then managed to make it out the door before her because my transaction took less than 30 seconds. This really annoyed me. I mean, I was still in my post-holiday grump mode, but even at that I was unreasonably annoyed.

And then today I met a black woman who suffers from both extreme vision and hearing impairment, and who nevertheless operates a successful business by herself. I could only imagine how irritating almost every inane task and interaction is for her. The amount of patience it would require to get through the day. Every day. Meanwhile I had gotten so needlessly frustrated yesterday.

And while I was working with her, it occurred to me how easy it would be for me to meet her somewhere in the middle. How little effort it requires to be a bit more considerate, a bit more empathetic, to try to anticipate and preempt her needs. To make a moment of her day marginally less annoying. We were in a technically accessible environment, and yet I could make the environment all the more open and accessible by engaging in conversation with her about her wants and needs, by actively listening to what she was saying, and by simply showing a desire to be helpful instead of merely expressing a willingness. In essence, I could make the space more open and accessible by making myself a bit more open and accessible.

Likewise, my brother has Down’s Syndrome, and while he requires no physical accommodation, it doesn’t mean that all environments are accessible to him. I feel that the reason for this is that people are often closed off to differently abled people. They don’t know how to engage or interact, and so they prefer to avoid the situation. And yet, we can imagine how it must feel for my brother; more than an intermittent potentially awkward interaction, every task and interaction is actively frustrating because he is constantly working to understanding what is required of him and also struggling to articulate his own needs. It’s easy then to imagine what a relief it would be to be in a space where people are open and accessible – being more than merely patient, and rather making even a small effort to engage and be of assistance.

Most importantly: being open and accessible not out of pity, but out of a recognition that we’re all trying to get through the day together and that some of us just have a disproportionately small share of that burden.

For example: Toronto has a homelessness problem, which is particularly urgent in the winter. But while the day to day for the homeless population is necessarily about survival, it must be the responsibility of the rest of us to take the step to make both temporary and sustained solutions to this societal problem.

Diversity is hollow without inclusion, and the accessibility of a space is incomplete if those who occupy the space are not community-minded.

Posted in: Progress

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