Did I mention that I love alliteration?
Actually, I’m not at all trying to be cute. I believe every word of that sentence. Access comes from an attitude that believes that people with disabilities have a right to exist in all spaces and participate in any activity of their choosing. Existing in all spaces is still a wild dream for many of us with physical disabilities.
But this morning I was remembering how terrified that I was when I heard that my doctor’s clinic was moving to a new building. I went and looked at the building and saw that it had one step up into the lobby. One step that left me sitting, outside, in my wheelchair. I liked my doctor, I liked feeling safe receiving healthcare, where was I going to find that again. When I mentioned the step to my doctor he simply said, “We haven’t moved yet, and yes, you will continue to have access.” I shouldn’t have worried, I shouldn’t have had to worry though either, but in truth I do, we all do, those of us who need adaptations.
A restaurant in Toronto, at it’s own expense, builds an elaborate ramp so that disabled people can come up and enter the front door. They wanted to. They did. Sadly the restaurant lasted only a couple of years, but here’s the thing. As soon as they moved, the ramp was taken down. The new place didn’t think that we were a necessary part of the community and they showed it. In a museum about prejudice they show signs that deny entry to various racial and religious groups. It’s a powerful reminder about attitude and access. But I suggest they need to put up at least one picture of a building with a single step in and see if visitors can guess what this image means. My guess is they won’t. My guess is that few people even noticed that the ramp was gone. Except us, of course.
So if attitude can conquer architecture, why is it so difficult for it to create welcome. Getting in simply isn’t enough. Once in can we expect that welcome naturally awaits. No, because attitudes also creates barriers. They can take space that is accessible and make it not so. At a whim. Without thought, they say, but they’re lying. There is always intent when a table moves that blocks access to disabled people. Always.
I am writing this because I went into a store yesterday that is normally quite accessible and I was unable to get into the store because of how they had arranged items for a big ‘sale’. I spoke to a manager who refused to see my point and then when she did, I was persistent, diminished it, “It’s only for a couple of days.”
Was the response I didn’t give.
I am writing this because I went into a clinic for an appointment yesterday. I was treated as a bother. I’ve never gone into a medical clinic where there was a space left open for a wheelchair user to park a chair. This place was overflowing with chairs, put there for those without the foresight to bring their own. I was a ‘bother’ … chairs had to be moved, space had to be made, it was, for a moment like theatre as they acted out their annoyance to a group of people who seemed to agree, by their silent consent, that I didn’t belong in that space.
Was the response I didn’t give.
Attitude can defeat architecture but it also can create barriers not built but that are built, brick by brick, out of privilege and prejudice.