Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Physical Barriers

So yesterday was International Day of Persons with Disabilities, and this year the theme is "Removing barriers to create an inclusive and accessible society for all." I apologize that I didn't get a post out for it. I thought that maybe what I'd do is spend the next couple of posts reflecting on barriers.

Physical Barriers

I think that there's a tendency, when people discuss disability and barriers, to think only of physical barriers. Not to minimize physical barriers. They're certainly enough to deal with. I was in a wheelchair for a year after my stroke, and have walked with a cane for speed and balance ever since, and physical barriers to accessibility are one of my biggest pet peeves. The only reason that my town won't be hearing more from me about how recent street construction made our main street all but impassable for anyone who has trouble getting around for over 6 weeks is that I can see now how the sidewalk renovations eliminate the step up that's historically made access to most stores and restaurants on one side of the street impossible for people in wheelchairs to enter.

I understand the realities of economics as much as anyone else, but I get really tired of money being used as the justification for removing physical barriers to accessibility, particularly in light of the fact that disabled people in America alone spend 13.6 billion dollars on travel each year (see http://www.witeckcombs.com/pdf/America's%20Disability%20Market%20at%20a%20Glance%20-%20FINAL%20-%205-25-2006.pdf ) for other eye-opening statistics on how disabled people are spending their money). Buildings that have physical barriers to accessibility cut off a large customer base. If I can't get into a store to shop (or even hear that physical barriers are preventing people with disabilities from shopping in a store), I'm not likely to go back unless I have no other choice. As a disabled person if I feel that my money isn't welcome, I'll go find another place that will take it.

I get especially annoyed when buildings built using public funds (libraries, schools, government offices) aren't fully accessible. Disabled people pay taxes. They deserve as much as anyone else to have access to these buildings and all the services that they offer. In Ontario, all public buildings are supposed to be accessible at this point, but when I visit some public buildings I find that some things have been overlooked: the building is accessible, but a person in a wheelchair would have to wheel over grass or a gravel path to get the door with the ramp, for example.

Before I became disabled, I didn't notice these things so much. Now I find that I can't help but notice them.

If you ever see an example of a building that is wonderfully accessible (or terribly inaccessible), please contact me. I'll put the name up on the Accessibility Bests and Worsts page.

Tomorrow: Communication Barriers

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