Disability access has recently been starting to receive the media coverage it deserves, and disabled access day is a great opportunity to open up the discussion around definitions of disability. It raises the fundamental question of whether we really are disabled, or whether we live in a society that disables us by choosing not to recognise and facilitate our needs.
The latter is a persuasive argument. Many wheelchair users, for example, live perfectly independent lives when they’re not prevented from doing so. It’s only when we’re confronted by lack of ramp and lift access to buses and trains, thoughtlessly high counters, and inaccessible or out-of-order toilet facilities that we lose this much-valued freedom.
The same applies to deafness. Often the only impediments to independence faced by people with hearing impairments result from lack of empathy, forethought and planning on the part of the hearing community. Why is it accepted that there is no need to train key public sector staff in British Sign Language (BSL)? Why is there no flashing light component to fire alarms? Why does so much video content not include a BSL component? And why still, on so much public transport, is there no visual indicator of location so that, particularly when it’s dark, someone with a hearing disability can know where they are?
Sounding the changes
People with visual impairment are faced with similar accessibility issues. Many areas of public transport still do not provide audio announcements, leaving people with hearing disabilities dependent on the kindness of strangers to find out where they are. The list goes on. Lighting in restaurants is often unnecessarily low. Stairs in public spaces too often have no colour contrast nosing. Why is there no step-free access on the tube? And why, even when staff assistance at a station has been requested, does it so often fail to materialise?
Giving a damn
The blocks to disability access are so obvious that you could give them to a child of ten as a problem solving exercise, and they would come up with nine out of ten solutions. If effective answers aren’t being arrived at and implemented, how can people with disabilities perceive this as anything other than apathy and indifference from the able bodied community? Disability awareness, and disability awareness training still, it seems, have a long way to go.