Did you know that today is the UN’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities? According to their site, this year’s theme is “Break Barriers, Open Doors: for an inclusive society and development for all”. Absolutely! Consider these statistics from the UN website:
- Approximately 15 percent of the world’s population, over 1 billion people, live with a disability in some form.
- People with disabilities are disproportionately represented in the lowest socioeconomic brackets.
- Disabled people face not only physical, but social and cultural barriers that exclude them from equally participating in society.
- People with disabilities have a higher mortality rate than their able-bodied peers.
- Disability often equals unequal access to education, employment, healthcare, and legal support.
I am really proud of the work that my company does around accessibility. Technology can do so much, and we’re dedicated, as are many other corporations and organizations of all shapes and sizes. But there is so much more to be done.
A few weeks ago, I read this article, and though I only spend small amounts of time in a wheelchair, the author’s sentiments struck a chord with me. What’s funny is that there was a similar one just a few months earlier, and some of themes are repeated. I am sure many of you can relate. I know I could.
Then, there’s this. As a frequent Disney guest, the idea that people would take advantage of the disabled policy to “get to the front of the line” outrages me. Disney’s wonderful treatment of the disabled makes it possible for all enjoy their vast theme parks. They think about access, and they make it comfortable whenever and however they can in the parks and their resorts. Every park is not so thoughtful.
I attended one of their competitors in a wheelchair, when it was not possible for me to go another way. I was almost injured trying to enter two different rides. In both cases, my wife could barely weave my chair through the narrow lines, and when we got to the end, the workers shuffled me onto the conveyor belts with everyone else, as if I was as able-bodied as the next guest. Some might say that I should not have been riding (see above: societal/cultural barriers), but really, the ride was perfectly safe for me. The 90 minutes standing in line, the other 10 hours in the day, and the conveyor belt system were the problems for me. Do those things mean I should not be permitted to ride? Not at Disney, though they are now changing their policies, reportedly at least partially because of the reports in the above story. Sad, though I still have faith that they’ll do a good job providing access to everyone.
As even these few articles and my minor experiences show, there IS much to be done. More than that, it’s complex.
Physical and technological modifications must be made so it’s possible for anyone to perform the same tasks as an able person; whether they’re an amputee, someone in a wheelchair or with a cane or walker, with a vision/hearing/mental disability, or anything that makes them differently abled than the majority.
However, attitudes must changes too. If we’re not willing to start a conversation, if we don’t invest and fund improvements, if we focus too much on the “dis” and not enough on the “ability”, if we cannot look someone who looks, speaks, or acts differently in the eye and just see them as human, we’ll never get there. Thanks to the UN, and to all who fight for our different abilities, for giving us focus today. I’m with you!