Sunday, May 1, 2011

Accessibility Fail

Blogging Against Disablism Day, May 1st 2011
Welcome, BADD bloggers!
As someone who has one kid in a wheelchair, and, on occasion, one in a stroller too (I used to have one in the wheelchair and one in a sling!), I have a pretty good eye for accessibility.  Or should I say, the lack thereof.
Local footpath "options"... FAIL
Society's public spaces are just not accessible.  This is not just about the chair, or even just about disability.  It's about people with a disability, carers, children, young people, women, different cultures, different races.  It's about power.  All of our spaces are designed or function to satisfy the powerful, the status quo.  So, in Australia, that's about white, middle class men people who are invested in capitalism.  Our spaces are about celebrating that [or selling it to us].  Other people don't have things designed for them, we have things to "cater to" us, or to "accomodate" us.  We're a second thought.

In Sydney city: "ramp" to cross road - FAIL
I'm sick of it.  So I'm doing my bit, in a bloggy way, to point out Accessibility FAIL from my three main persepectives as a "second thought" in society:

1. As a carer for a child in a wheelchair.  This child is a tall, lanky 12 year old, with athetoid CP, very limited motor control, no independent walking, and who is incontinent.  Oh, and who has epilepsy.  Oh, so much potential here!  [I'm planning a whole post on the awesome that isn't 'the "disabled toilets" of the world, with their built-in assumptions that 1. you're in there alone, and 2. you're using the toilet, and 3. you're without any friggin bags, need for a rubbish bin, or have any kids/trolleys/cane's/dogs/etc with you.  That is, they're usually just a "normal" toilet with a friggin rail and more room.  FAIL.  More on this in future posts.../rant]  Here's the girl:

2. As a mother of a small child.  Who is 3, curious, enjoys running and exploring, and who is sometimes in a stroller (and who was in a sling).  So much of our public world excludes children, and (not by accident) their mothers carers.  Sometimes we are just ignored, rendered invisible, unwanted, excluded, and sometimes we are taken advantage of for the sake of the almighty dollar (lets just take the basics of paying for playgrounds, the display of sweets at checkouts, the goddam kiddie rides at the goddam shops.  Oh and none of those things are accessible for the chair anyway, so there's that). Here's the small girl:

3. As a woman.  Who finds it is just so awesome that she can't go any-friggin-where without being hit over the head with what she isn't, and what she should be, and that the world is set up and catered to the male gaze (trails off into feminist rant inducing much soap boxing and probably spittle...).  Here's me:

Accessibility FAIL buttonWelcome to Accessibility Fail.  I'm blogging the Accessiblity FAIL I see in my life, either in person or online.  Please join me!  Post a comment below, or add your own experiences on your blog and I'll link 'em (See Simply Link doohickey below!).  If I ever see Accessibility Wins, I'll post them too, but we all know those are few and far between!

The upshot of all this is:  Here is my basic bit of advice for all town planners, policy officers, architects, engineers, public officials, politicians, bureaucrats, and anyone having anything to do with public (and private) building, public (and private) space design, and public life in general NEED to do this BEFORE building or 'adapting' a space:

1.  Go there and push someone in a wheelchair.

2.  Go there and push themselves in a wheelchair.

3.  Go there and try any number of mobility "aids," vision "aids," and the innumerable ways and means with which some people with disability might access the world.

4.  Don't assume if you've done 1-4 that you've a) covered everything and everybody, and b) have any idea what it's really like. 

5.  Go there and push a kid in a stroller.

6.  Go there with with a small child who might behave unpredictably, or use the environment in ways adults won't.

7.  Which should really be numbers one to six: ASK.  Consult, converse, listen.  Don't add us on at the end like a PC nod to the outsiders.  We're not outsiders.  We're YOU.

Only then can you go design, fund, build and so on.

Grab a button and post a comment if you'd like to Play Along at Home [Fun for All the Family TM].  If we can't laugh we'll drown in a lake of unicorn tears.  Or something. 

Memo To Self: Accessibility FAIL

This post is for Blogging Against Disablism Day 2011, from the fabulous Diary of a Goldfish.  My 2009 BADD post is hereI blog about being a stepmum to a child with a disability (and a teenager!), my 3 year old, Montessori doings, and general parenthood, feminist awesome.  You might also want to check out my living with a wheelchair post here, and my post on being a stepmother here!  A final link, to my post On Epilepsy, here

Thanks for stopping by!  Leave me some comment luv!  If you feel like sharing your own experience of Accessibility FAIL, link yourself below, I'm making it a regular feature here.


Elizabeth said...

Great post -- ironically, I've got my own beef on the disabled over on my blog.

codeman38 said...

Are you on Dreamwidth, by any chance? There's a whole group blog called Accessibility Fail there, and it's exactly what it sounds like

I'd be glad to send an invite along so you could post there.

Selene said...

Sounds great, I'd love that, codeman38! I'm not on dreamwidth *off to investigate*

@Elizabeth, love your post, I want one of those

Anna said...

Great post! Time and time again I get pissed off at the lack of accessibility! And so many times people have stood and watched me as I struggle! I am going to keep an eye out now and take photos and join you!!

Ruth said...

I love your suggestions so many times when I try to use facilities I think if only someone had actually brought a wheelchair in here when making it accessible. Great post!

Ruth Madison said...

So much fail! I'm surprised by how many people don't even notice it.

Martha said...

I just wrote a paper about this. The water fountain in a restaurant is low enough for wheelchair users but isn't made so a person can easily get to it; the restaurant has no automatic door opening button. There is an accessible bathroom, but there is no sink or trashcan inside.

Moose said...


I used to work for a fairly good sized University that long has had accessibility problems. She had a run in with the campus ADA person (someone I did, ages later, whom I... had issues with), who insisted that the campus was "fully accessible" and he should "know" because he was in a mobility scooter.

So they went for a walk around campus. And guess what? Turned out the ADA Person had never really explored a lot of campus, and her job involved going into buildings all over campus.

Fast forward 10 yrs later (2005ish?). They build a BRAND! NEW! high technology building for use by the University and corporate partners. When the building opened
- the automatic door openers were not hooked up [ie. the buttons were there for show]
- the 'accessible' bathrooms were tiny with a thin rail, and had wall-mounted toilets [which can only hold up to 250 lbs, which a 150 lb person in a wheelchair can *easily* exceed swinging themselves onto the seat].
- many corners were "artful" so that they looked pretty, but were too narrow for mobility devices


Gotta love it.

Selene said...

Oh, yeah, the non-auto doors! Because in a narrow/normal doorway it's a breeze to reach around a rigid wheelchair, open the door (either way, in or out, it all sucks), keep the friggin thing open somehow while wheeling through it, while corralling a 3 year old. Oh yeah.

And what IS it with "disabled" toilets!!??

Sponge said...

A great post. I tended to find similar problems when I went out with my (late) grandma for trips. I wanted her to enjoy all the things I could, and all the things she always had, before she needed the wheelchair to get around in.

Things like theatre trips in London. (Does anyone know how steep they make the slopes in the stalls? I thought the stalls were pretty much flat....boy was I wrong about that...and the whole place had cleared out so no-one could help (and also no-one saw me struggle, lol!)).

The worst thing I always tended to find though, was people NOT moving out of your fact people walking right towards you as thought you ought to get out of their way. Gosh, what an incovenience we were (yeah right!). This was also true in supermarkets, down the street, wherever.

The saddest time was when I took my nan to a little cafe she and my mum had gone to all through the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and now here I was taking my nan to the same place for a treat. The only problem was the only toilets in the place were up a very steep flight of stairs (which we hadnt remembered). I think it took about 3 or 4 strong men to help her up. It makes me so sad to think of it as she was a very proud lady, but then again she did like a few handsome men making a fuss of her!

I wont even get started on the time I tried to look in to booking a trip down memory lane to the Austrian Alps.....needless to say it never happened....but begs the question - how do disabled or elderly people there cope? And are there some places that disabled and elderly people just shouldnt be? Grrrrrr, course not!

Space is for everyone to enjoy and use.

Anonymous said...

All great ideas! I love your spirit and way with words! Cheers to BADD!
Thanks for coming by my way!

Wheelchair Dancer said...

hey!!! also here from BADD

I think it is really important for people to see what happens when you take a wheelchair somewhere. But I also think there's a difference between being able bodied in a wheelchair and watching a disabled person who uses a wheelchair point stuff out. For me, it's partly a principle thing, but it's also an important reality as you point out: sometimes, the theory -- more room and a rail doesn't really constitute accessibility.

I love the idea of "accessibility fail" being a vast network of blogs, writers, pictures and contributors that stretches across the world.

lauredhel said...

Extending WCD's point, just one of many things that being abled in a wheelchair doesn't tell you - pain. An abled person might be able to go over bumps, rough ground, up or down small kerbs, and even maybe have fun doing it. For some of us, those bumps are incredibly painful, and add up to a lot more exhaustion and difficulty.

I would also like people to pay attention, even while just looking at wheeled devices (and accessibility is SO much more), to scooter accessibility as well as wheelchair accessibility, because they're not at all the same thing.

Selene said...

I totally agree, Lauredhel and Wheelchair Dancer, which is why I think point 4 is actually the most important one, an temporarily ablebodied person just sitting in a chair or scooter, using a cane, and so on in all the infinite variations is NEVER enough, and does only the smallest amount of creating awareness of experience. I think asking is the best and only sensible policy.

Like pushing a child in a chair is a different set of challenges and experience than being in a chair yourself, which is different from using a powerchair, or a scooter, and so on in our infinite variability.

The trying it out yourself is just one small way to get a glimpse. A collaborative list would be a cool thing.

Selene said...

@ Sponge, people NOT moving out of my way is an absolute rage inducer for me, I've had that only too often, I think on my last BADD post I mentioned a time I just said loudly at one man "If you're not moving for the woman pushing a disabled child in a wheelchair with her other child in a sling on her back, who the fuck are you moving for?" Lolz indeed.

@starrlife, thanks!!!

Christi said...

What a great post! Thank you for sharing this, and for pointing out things that I tend to take for granted. It's a good reminder to observe our surroundings from someone else's perspective. By the way, your kids are so cute - oh, the fabulous curls!!

Rachel said...

If I were in charge, all homes would be built wheelchair accessible and all bathroom stalls would be disabled-friendly.

Years ago I broke my leg badly enough that I couldn't bear any weight on it for 11 months. I used a walker instead of crutches and had endless difficulty with doors and doorways. I often found doorways in homes to be so narrow that I had to turn my walker sideways to pass through. I was very lucky that I was quite fit and agile so that completing that manuver was possible for me.

I had to change where I shopped because there were doors that I could not hold open and walk through at some of my usual stores (and all that exercize I was getting with my arms meant I was able to bench press 350 pounds!) When I went to the mall I couldn't use the bathrooms at all because the stall doors opened inward and while my walker and I (just barely) fit within, once there, I couldn't close the door.

There were sidewalks I sometimes had to traverse that were so treacherous that I had to go sideways or go in the street to get by. Forget about the fire hydrants and bus shelters built so that I couldn't pass.

I've become slightly rabid about filing complaints against the city for their ADA compliance failures. In my neighborhood, if you are in a wheelchair, you cannot use the sidewalks at all, the broken pavement and fixtures make them impassable.

Selene said...

Thanks for the comment, Rachel! I totally agree re the door opening thing, it's just a logic fail sometimes, isn't it! And the amount of crap put right in the middle of footpaths is just amazing. I like the idea of filing complaints, will look into it, thanks.