There have been significant improvements in accessibility and inclusion over the last few years but there is still so much work to be done. Our society's attitudes and treatment of the disabled community remains insufficient and despite improvement the barriers surrounding inclusion and equality still remain. However, there are some ways we can all help to change this and continue to drive positive change.
One of the easiest ways for someone to support accessibility in their community is to begin to recognize what inaccessibility looks like. Educating yourself in general about the different models of disability that exist, and the ableism in our society is a great way to be a more effective ally. If you are not accustomed to dealing with specific accessibility issues, they may not be readily apparent. An aisle that is too crowded with narrow shelves and bins on the floor can be navigable for some, but for those with mobility issues can represent a significant and unnecessary hurdle. By familiarizing yourself with common accessibility issues, you can begin to see just how many there may be in your community. Feel free to check out this CDC article pointing out common barriers. However, recognizing the problem is only the first step.
There are some easy personal changes you can make in your life as well to promote accessibility. You can make your own social media content more accessible by using image descriptions in captions and Alternative text (Alt Text) which is typically a description attached directly to the image which is easily accessible for those in the blind and low vision communities. Learning more about inclusive language and beginning to make it commonplace in your vocabulary helps create a more inclusive mindset and environment. Another common issue that can arise on social media is the controversial topic of "inspiration porn," when people look to disabled people "overcoming their disabilities," it is often a way for non-disabled people to draw inspiration for themselves because their "struggles" aren't as bad. This type of thinking relegates people with disabilities as less capable and valuable because of their disability. Recognizing this and calling people out for it may be uncomfortable. Still, it is essential to stop this narrative and mindset surrounding disability from becoming the dominant view of the disabled community. If you work in the service industry, you can educate yourself on interacting more appropriately with those with disabilities in a work environment. It can be valuable to understand something as simple as when it might be appropriate to offer assistance. It is always a good rule of thumb to be polite and ask proactively if you can help or do something for someone, disabled or not. If a person with a disability asks for help and you’re not sure how to help, you can ask specifically what you can do and how you can do it. Beyond just removing physical barriers, these small behavioral changes help create a more inclusive community with more equity in how people are treated.
Removing these barriers can often be as simple as sending an email or making a call to the organization or business informing them of the issue. However, sometimes it is not as easy to make these changes. It is important not to be discouraged and to find the right avenue to address the issue. Local government and ADA coverage can be very spotty at times. There are a variety of exceptions within the ADA with historical buildings and features in particular being exempt from many standards. It is also an unfortunate reality that the ADA simply does not have the resources to effectively uphold all of its standards. There are many businesses and organizations that have no idea that their locations may be inaccessible.
There are also more far-reaching ways to support accessibility, such as advocating for more disabled people in the workplace. According to NPR, only 1 in 5 people with disabilities are employed. Many employers still discriminate against disabled workers and see their disability as an impediment to their abilities. In contrast, people with disabilities can provide an asset with a diverse outlook and worldview. Advocating for inclusive hiring practices both at your place of work and in general is an essential step in creating a more equitable environment for those with disabilities to enter the workforce. Underrepresentation in government has also been an issue. According to the CDC, 1 in 4 Americans have some form of disability; however, this proportion is severely underrepresented in our political offices. This lack of representation only magnifies the absence of legislative support for accessibility and the disabled community in general. Advocating for more accessible elections on every level is crucial in improving representation. Many local and lower-level elections do not have the large-scale accessible voting methods that national elections enjoy and can deter people with mobility issues and other disabilities from going to the polls. Advocating for inclusive elections on every level would create greater opportunities for disabled voters to exercise their rights.
Throughout all of your efforts, it is also important to remember that being an advocate and an ally is not easy. It takes time and commitment, and there will likely be times when you are not perfect. You may not be able to get as much traction on an issue as you would like, or you may accidentally use non-inclusive language. It is important to not get discouraged, even if you experience difficulties along the way. Pushing our communities in the right direction and advocating for a better world for everyone is not a simple undertaking. However, when people begin to change their world view and see the barriers that others experience, we can start to build a world that does not bar people from participating in their communities based on their disability.
At VisitAble, our mission revolves around accessibility and disability inclusion at public-facing spaces. We believe in creating a platform that allows organizations to address these issues. We want to provide people with disabilities a way to get rid of the frustration of being unaware if a location is inclusive or accessible to them. We support businesses, universities, and governments throughout Virginia and the DC/Maryland/Virginia area with training and disability inclusion consulting. We also provide our virtual training for organizations across the United States, contact us today!