Five Fights Worth Fighting

Lack of accessibility is one of the most important issues facing our society today, and it’s necessary for us to look at what we can all do to make our communities inclusive towards everyone. By taking the time to learn about the small things we can do as individuals to help create accessible spaces, it becomes easy to realize that accessibility is not a hindrance or burden, but a life-changing tool that makes communities stronger and more diverse. True accessibility is multi-faceted and deals with not only physical spaces, but social issues, representation, and personal experience. As a disabled individual, I see firsthand both the issues and the progress made in my community regarding inclusion and access. In this post, I’ll be speaking about five of the most important accessibility issues that together, we can solve.

1. Physical Access to Community Spaces
The first things that often come to mind when we hear the word accessibility are things like ramps, automatic doors, and larger bathroom stalls. This is because physical inaccessibility is one of the most obvious forms of exclusion, and it’s something that both disabled and non-disabled individuals can recognize easily. It does not take much to understand that if a building has stairs, individuals who use wheelchairs cannot enter. This goes for all types of disabilities, and even though it may seem simple, it’s also important to realize that a ramp does not automatically mean a building is accessible. Things like insufficient or dim lighting, excessive use of flashing or strobe lighting, or signage without braille can make spaces inaccessible to large groups of people. The reason this is such an important cause to fight for is because if disabled people cannot physically enter a space, they are being entirely left out of everything that goes on there. Whether a business, an event, or a public centre, the owners of that building are effectively sending a message that they don’t value disabled peoples’ participation. This also creates a massive hassle for disabled people. Constantly having to adjust plans, being limited in where we can shop or eat, and being unable to comfortably participate in events can take a huge toll on our livelihoods. What can you do to help? Be aware of the accessibility of your surroundings. Have a mental checklist of barriers to access, and think of a disabled friend or relative. Would they be able to enter that space? Would they be able to safely and independently navigate the building? If not, take note of that. If you are able bodied, use the privilege you have being able to enter that space, and mention to a manager or send an email kindly explaining your concerns with the establishment’s inaccessibility. If you’re disabled, make your voice heard. Explain how the inaccessibility affects you, and how it feels to not be able to access that space. When we all work together and make it clear that accessibility is necessary, others will be forced to listen.

2. Accessible Education
If we want to help cultivate an accessible and inclusive future, we must ensure that disabled individuals have access to an equal and inclusive education. From grade school all the way to post-secondary, it’s crucial that there are services in place so that disabled students are able to succeed. This involves making accommodations available, providing personalized learning support, and offering assistive technology to make sure students with disabilities are able to learn on a level playing field. When society focuses on accommodating disabled children and young adults, especially in academia, we will get to see these individuals go on to make great impacts in our future.

3. Accessible Housing
Having a safe and comfortable place to call home is something that many people take for granted, and this is unfortunately something many disabled people struggle with. The reality is that most affordable housing options are not accessible, and most accessible housing options are not affordable. This leaves many disabled people at a huge loss, making it nearly impossible for some to find permanent places to live. Further than this, we must often end up making compromises to our lifestyle, comfort, and even health in order to find a place to live, as it can be very tricky to find places that fit our accessibility needs. Lack of accessible and affordable housing puts a large group of people at a disadvantage, and forces disabled individuals to risk their safety and livelihood to stay warm. This issue is so important, and it’s why it is so necessary to learn from and support organizations such as Accessible Housing. By providing housing to some of the most vulnerable of our population at a feasible cost, Accessible Housing helps ensure that everyone has access to not only a house, but a home. If you are able to support organizations like these, you are doing incredible things to improve accessible and inclusion in your community.

4. Representation of Disabled People in Media
While not something that everyone readily recognizes the importance of, proper representation of disabilities in film, television, and fashion is incredibly valuable. Representation in mainstream media gives disabled people a voice, and helps normalize disabilities in everyday life. People who don’t have exposure to disabilities in their own lives sometimes feel uncomfortable when they meet people who are different than themselves. This is incredibly harmful to both themselves and the disabled people they interact with. By showing people with disabilities in different lights, different characters, and in areas such as fashion, the media can help others realize the reality that disabled people are not only disabled. People with disabilities have so much to offer the world, and have identities that are completely separate from having a disability. Disabled people can be artists, teachers, scientists, models, and everything else. It’s both hurtful and ignorant to assume incompetence when meeting disabled individuals for the first time, and providing representation can make a world of difference in changing the perspectives of people who may not otherwise know better. Supporting film makers, TV directors, and brands who actively strive to include disabled individuals in the things they create is an amazing way to pave the way for a more inclusive society.

5. Acceptance, Inclusion, and Equality
The absolute most important fight worth fighting is one for acceptance, inclusion, and equality for all people living with disabilities. This is something that everyone must actively strive for, by becoming aware of what they can do better in their own community. Interactions with disabled people should be ones of openness, understanding, and most importantly, respect. It’s necessary for everyone to learn how to recognize inaccessibility, address it, and help create spaces where everyone feels included. As able-bodied individuals, realize that your willingness to listen to disabled people is one of the most valuable things you can do to help us. Understand that while we may do certain things differently, we are just as capable as anyone else. When we are given the tools we need to succeed, such as accessibility, education, housing, and representation, we can do incredible things in our community. By helping us advocate for more accessibility and foster inclusivity, you are helping us achieve our potential. When we all work together and fight for these things, we will be creating a stronger community that all of us can enjoy.

About Erin
Erin Novakowski is a 17 year old who has used a wheelchair her entire life. Erin is an advocate for accessibility, and is involved with local organizations and events where she can share her ideas about how to improve accessibility in Calgary. Her vision for an ideal Calgary is that everyone, regardless of ability or disability, can recognize and fight against barriers which exist that prevent every Calgarian from being able to explore and thrive in our city.