Accessibility Means Being Part Of The Community

Erin Hawley

Erin Hawley

Accessibility breaks barriers. It’s not just about navigating a space using a wheelchair, or working in a scent-free environment; these are both part of a bigger, more important consideration – that disabled people should have access to the community.

Visiting friends or going to a restaurant means calling ahead to check if a place is accessible, researching public transit routes, and hoping subway elevators aren’t down for maintenance. Leaving your house is a gamble, and a drain on physical, financial, and/or emotional resources. For me, attending any type of gaming convention (I’m a huge nerd) needs lots of planning and checking in with game designers to see if their event is accessible for me; sometimes I can play, sometimes I can’t. And while the games I do play are exciting and memorable, I can’t help but think of all I am missing out on.

This feeling translates across every facet of my social life, from friend’s parties, to concerts, to historical tours, to vacations and weddings and volunteer opportunities. I do a lot of fun and meaningful things via online communities, like Easterseals Thrive, but I don’t always feel part of an offline, local community beyond my immediate family – and sometimes that hurts.

Inaccessibility leads to isolation, to feeling like you are not wanted in a space. Inaccessibility is mostly a result of ignorance and the belief that disabled people don’t go out in the community. I can tell you that most of us do, but more of us would go out if things were accessible. I want to be more involved with my local community, but I am often reminded that I am not welcome here. My town prioritizes history and old-time charm over accessibility, and any attempt at change, or even dialogue, is met with scorn.

But there’s room for hope. Easterseals affiliates and organizations across the nation are working toward community access equality. Easterseals Project Action Consulting offers travel training based on the Americans with Disabilities Act. Many affiliates, like Easterseals New Jersey, offer Day Habilitation, a program that gets disabled people involved in social settings with peers and in the community. These services are crucial, and will change how society views and treats disabled people.

An accessible community is something I dream of. I imagine a fully accessible public transit system with adequate room for wheelchairs and other mobility devices. Curb cuts on every corner, and paved sidewalks. A ramp in every home. Captions and audio descriptions for movie theaters. ASL interpreters at events. Quiet rooms. Braille restaurant menus. The list goes on.

I do think these goals are achievable. In fact, many are already on their way to becoming a reality; we just need to keep pushing for change.

What does an accessible community look like to you?

More posts by Erin:

Thankful For Online Friends and the Technology That Connects Us

Empowered and Disabled: Why I Don’t Like ‘Special Needs’

Disability and Dating: How to Find Love While Being True to Yourself


 

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