Accommodation is Not “Special Treatment”
“Treat us like you would anyone else.”
It’s a common catchphrase you hear in some spheres of disability rights activism when an able bodied person asks about how to behave around people with disabilities. Pretty simple, right? Treat us like you would anyone else. Acknowledge that we are human beings. That we have a right to exist. That we should be treated with respect. That we deserve space on this Earth, just like everyone else. Greet us when we enter a room. Talk to us, not our interpreters/communicative devices. Don’t touch our assistive devices without permission.
You get the drift.
Be good. Be kind. Be human.
Now, try requesting accommodation.
“I thought you said you didn’t want any special treatment,” they say.
Folks, accommodation is not “special treatment.”
I know that a lot of us have been told our whole lives that requesting accommodations is being unreasonable and demanding special treatment. It’s not. We shouldn’t have to request accommodations in the first place, because if people treated us like everyone else, they would respect us as human beings and recognize and try to anticipate needs. Kind of how like a group of people walking arm in arm will break up and go single file to let someone else pass them on the sidewalk.
That’s not special treatment. That’s recognizing that another human being has a need which should be accommodated so that this human being can go about daily activities.
Talking about this with Anna recently, she pointed out just one source of frustration; the need for wheelchair-accessible transport to the airport. “Don needs to get to the airport,” she said. “That’s all. Just like everyone else who needs to get to the airport from their house.” Getting to the airport is not a “special need.” Needing a form of transit which you can actually travel on is also not a “special need.” These are needs which people at all ability levels actually encounter pretty regularly.
Likewise, everyone needs to eat. Everyone needs to breathe. These are not, in any way shape or form, unusual needs. And there are lots of different ways to fulfill them. One way is not better than another. And we have a duty, collectively, to make sure that all ways are equally accessible. There it is, the A word.
Accessibility is not about special treatment. It’s about ensuring that people are able to do things they need/want to do. Just like everyone else. We are not asking for special treatment when we request accommodations, we are just asking to have our right to access recognized.
Talking with my father about this recently, I was trying to frame accessibility in a sense that he would understand. I said “imagine that I was a full time wheelchair user, looking for a place to live. When I arrived at my house [referring to the house I live in now] to look at it, I would have turned away immediately. Because my house is not accessible. Every time you deny accommodations, it’s slamming a door in someone’s face.” My father said, in a bit of a lightbulb moment, “so, what you’re saying is that for people who need accommodation, the world can be like going to look at houses for rent and being told that you can’t have the key to the front door?” And I said “yeah, pretty much.”
Accommodation is the key to the front door. And everyone’s entitled to have a key to the front door, people.