Much like web design could be considered a hidden profession, disability discrimination is a hidden problem. Where web design hides behind different job titles, disability discrimination is wrapped in the even softer swaddling of misconception, ignorance, and stereotype. Today is Blogging Against Disablism Day. Here are a few thoughts.
It’s easy to overlook something that’s not there, especially when its absence doesn’t directly affect you. A wheelchair ramp. Accessible website navigation. If it’s not staring us in the face, or if no one brings it up, these things are often pushed aside, put off, or buried under deadlines and excuses.
Next time you’re out, try and count the number of places that lack accessibility. Maybe it’s a restaurant or bar that has only high tables and chairs/stools, or a bookstore that is upstairs with no elevator. Quaint cobblestone streets that are nice to look at that might catch wheelchair wheels. A walkway that isn’t cleared of snow and ice.
These “little” things add up to barriers, and can discourage certain segments of the population from accessing places and information that the rest of us take for granted. These can be easy to miss from one perspective, and even easier to shrug off or ignore as being inconsequential.
Fighting what you can’t see
It’s hard to rally around something as pervasive and subtle as disability discrimination. Disability discrimination isn’t just shady employment practices. It’s all around us. It’s the daily activities we take for granted that are denied to others by default. When was the last time someone went on a hunger strike, or camped out in the freezing rain, to raise awareness about the lack of opportunities for people with mental illness? How do you build momentum and get people passionately involved in something that is so often out of sight, and thus out of mind? How do you convince someone that their website is inaccessible, and that that is a big deal?
Oh, that elephant
Get informed. Find out what accommodations your organization makes for people with disabilities. Read about various types of disabilities and accessibility issues. Look into how much it would cost to put a wheelchair ramp in. Start taking web accessibility seriously.
Talk about it. The reason no one sees the elephant in the living room is because it is easier not to talk about it, than to try to move it. So talk about it. Point out the fact that a business might be difficult to access in a wheelchair. That’s what those comment cards in restaurants are for, after all – providing feedback. Email the web designer or customer support department about their website not being accessible. Talk with friends and coworkers about their experiences. Write your elected representatives.
Get involved. Find a local organization near you that works for the advancement for the disabled, or on related issues. Start a blog and start writing about what you see, hear, and encounter out there.