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Accessibility and Ignorance

I wanted to share a great blog post about ignorance written by Mirabai Knight, a CART writer whom I have admired for excellent captioning services and advocacy for deaf and hard of hearing people. However, that post made me respect her even more.

Here’s an excerpt of the post: “Obviously my ignorance didn’t stop them [deaf and hard of hearing people] from doing what they wanted to do. But when you add my ignorance to the ignorance of everyone else they had to deal with, how much more exhausting, frustrating, annoying, infuriating did it make their educational experiences, not to mention other parts of their lives? If I hadn’t gone into CART, I never would have realized the mistakes I’d made in trusting my own assumptions instead of listening to their experiences. Now I do, and I’m mortified when I think of the way I behaved. There’s no easy solution to this problem. One out of every seven people in this country have some degree of hearing loss, and yet so few people actually understand how it works. It’ll take a lot to educate all 312 million people about the 45 million who are Deaf, deafened, or hard of hearing, but it badly needs to be done.”

Mirabai has a good point. It’s frustrating for us to deal with people not familiar with accessibility. We are disabled not because of our disabilities, but because of physical and attitudinal barriers put by society. Especially attitudinal barriers because once more people are aware about our frustrations and willing to do something about it, removing physical barriers would be a breeze. It would also stop making us feel like second class citizen. We did not choose to become disabled and would not have felt disabled if we had lived in the barrier-free world.

Unfortunately, not enough people with disabilities speak up about their frustrations. From my experience, they prefer to vent to each other instead of actually addressing their frustrations to those who could remove barriers for them and spreading more awareness. They even are trying to put up with bullying. It’s often due to many disabilities being stigmatized by society. Many just get tired of fighting for access or are unaware of their rights. For these reasons, many non-disabled people often assume that those few of us who speak up are the only ones who need full and equal access while we actually speak for millions of people like us. Some even scold us for speaking up and tell us to shut up to stop making them look bad.

Disabilities affect not only those who have them, but also others they are interacting with. My hearing loss affects those who want me to go with them to live events, for example, that are not accessible to those like myself via captioning. I have a deaf friend who became a wheelchair user after a car accident, and frustrations with the lack of physical access affect not only her, but also myself, if we cannot get to places without good ramps and working elevators – to say nothing about the lack of access to aural information for both of us.

Many think that people with disabilities get a special treatment by having an alternative access. It is not true. Like anyone else, we want to feel included – it is our basic human right to have full and equal access. When resolving the Oberti vs. Board of Education case, the federal judge stated: “Inclusion is a right, not a special privilege for a select few.”

Disability does not discriminate – anyone may have it at any point of their lives regardless of age, race, gender, ethnicity, educational level, social and economic status. It may be temporary or permanent. Many of us naturally want to have as much independency as possible. However, no mater how hard we try to do things to the best of our abilities, our abilities are still limited. That’s why we feel hurt when some think how lazy and ungrateful we are and how wrong it is for us to complain about the lack of access. We want to enjoy our lives to the fullest and to participate in society, but not unless we are on the level playing field with others. It’s the lack of full and equal access that prevents us from that.

As a web accessibility specialist and disability advocate, I get frustrated even more when dealing with many businesses and individuals who treat accessibility as an afterthought or something nice to have. It is not – accessibility is universal design. They often say how expensive or time consuming it is to spend on accessibility without realizing that people with disabilities make the largest minority with significant buying power and yet are the most ignored.

I look forward to working with more businesses who care about universal design. After all, what works for people with disabilities, also benefits everyone else, including businesses. So it’s a win/win situation for everyone.

Published in Accessibility

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