Tag Archives: universal access

Normalising Accessibility

The radio station I’ve been listening to for most of my life has a habit, when announcing community events, of indicating whether they are accessible. This generally refers specifically to wheelchair accessibility, although I have heard announcers address other things, like chemical sensitivity, depending on the announcer and the event. The point is, my whole life, whenever I hear community events announced, it has been announced with a note about accessibility. That kind of does something to a person, you know?

The announcers put accessibility in the same rank of importance as event information like where the event is, when it is, what is happening, how much it costs, and who to contact for more information, tickets, reservations, and so forth. As it should be. Because all of this information could determine whether someone can attend; if something is happening this Friday at 1:00, for example, I can’t go, because I’m meeting a friend for lunch. If it costs $40 USD, I can’t go, because that’s more than I want to spend. If it’s in Lakeport, I can’t go, because I don’t want to drive that far…and so forth. The whole point of an event announcement is to provide people with enough information to determine if they want to go to an event, and if they can attend.

I mentioned the fact that the radio station does this on Twitter and got a number of intrigued responses, and the thing that struck me was how radical people thought it was, that the radio station would make a habit of including accessibility notes on event announcements. For me, it’s commonplace, and I expect to see accessibility discussed on posters and other event announcements because I’ve been socialised to expect it; a big part of the reason for this is that I live in Northern California, very close to the Bay Area, where there is a highly active disability community that has agitated long and hard for things like this. In my own town, Fort Bragg, I can’t say accessibility is great. There are a lot of issues I’ve identified and I’m sure there are many more I haven’t. And I’d note that some events here are very bad about providing accessibility information on posters, and are shocked, simply shocked, if I contact organisers to ask, so I’m not pretending that accessibility notes are universally provided, or universally useful, in my little hippie paradise. But they are there.

Accessibility notes, to my mind, serve two important functions.

The first is that they provide a service for people with disabilities. You can know, right off the bat, whether you can attend an event, especially if organisations make a point of using comprehensive accessibility notes. For example, the radio station just aired a spot on a film screening that sounds interesting. It is in an accessible venue, but is the film captioned or will there be an interpreter? Is there an audio description available? This was not mentioned. Having complete notes about accessibility saves people the trouble of making a phone call/sending an email, and also avoids the ┬ápotential situation where the person on the other end says ‘oooooh yeah, our event is totally accessible’ and you get there and find out it’s not. I think accessibility information should be default with any event announcement; you wouldn’t announce an event without the date, right?

The second purpose, one I was discussing with Anna recently, is that accessibility notes remind people that we exist. Every time you hear an announcement saying something like ‘this venue is not wheelchair accessible,’ that sends a message. Hey, there are people who use wheelchairs! Hey, they can’t get into this event! That’s not cool! Encountering accessibility notes reminds people to think about the accessibility in their own lives and it acts as a quiet reminder; I mean, really, who wants to be the person running an event accompanied with radio announcements basically saying ‘wheelchair/scooter users, parents with strollers, and possibly people with mobility impairments not welcome’?

Another area where I have noticed accessibility notes coming up more and more these days is on recipes online. In part, that’s because I tend to hang out with other people with disabilities, so it’s not like accessibility notes are a Thing in the broader online cooking/recipe exchange community, although they should be. Seeing those notes reminds people that, hey, some people with disabilities like to cook, and, hey, it is really helpful to be able to skim the notes at the top of a recipe to see if you will be able to prepare it. After all, most recipes indicate if they are vegetarian/vegan these days, and many provide notes about common allergens like wheat, dairy, and soy. All this information is considered important because it will determine whether you can make the recipe, so why not add an accessibility note? Something like ‘you will need to lift a heavy stockpot full of water from the sink to the stove’ can be a dealbreaker. (Unless you have one of those rad flexible hose things that lets you fill pots right next to the stove, in which case, can I move in?)

Having accessibility notes does not create universal access. But it’s certainly a step in the right direction, of getting people to think beyond ‘special treatment‘ by positioning accessibility as something broadly relevant to most people, and something of equal importance as ‘who, what, where, when, why, and how.’ Which, for many of us, it is.