Accessibility and attitudes

I have a project to finish that’s due today, but I wanted to address the question about resources regarding accessibility from one of the comments.

Episcopal Disability Network, http://www.disability99.org/ can provide you with some useful ideas, information, links, and articles.

There are a number of other sources of information out there, a quick google search turns up a lot.

In my previous post about my own experience with disability I talked about attitudes and stigma in a personal way through my own narrative. When thinking about disability (and illness, for that matter) we need to pay at least as much attention to our attitudes as we do our architecture. I think it’s important to be self-aware here. I know a lot about being visually impaired, but little about what it’s like to be a parent searching for a church where the Sunday school will be accepting of a child with developmental disabilities. We need to talk with people about their experiences and really hear what they’re saying. Often we’ve figured out what someone is going to say ahead of time, meaning that we’re not really listening to them. My thoughts and feelings about an issue might be very different than those of another person with the same visual acuity. There are some general things that help everybody (for example, steps that are carefully striped with a contrasting color strip help not just me but elderly people and people carrying boxes or children), but don’t go too far in your assumptions. Talk to people.

Attitudes about hidden disabilities and illnesses of a relapsing/remitting or chronic nature need to be addressed too. There are people who will be able to get around in a seemingly “normal” way one day who may use a cane or crutches on other days. This is expected with many conditions, yet it is not uncommon for a person in this situation to be hit with unfair and uninformed questions about it. Also, be aware that advances in the treatment of a number of illnesses have meant that the prognosis is very different from what it once was. (Examples I’m thinking of include Parkinson’s, heart disease, HIV, cystic fibrosis, sickle cell disease, many types of cancer, among others.) People tend to treat anyone diagnosed with a serious illness like they are a ticking time bomb. Again, this is a case where listening goes a really long way.

These are just my thoughts on the issue. Now back to another end of the semester project!

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~ by Sophia on May 6, 2008.

2 Responses to “Accessibility and attitudes”

  1. I wonder if most of us just don’t notice what’s needed until we need it? I remember being made more aware of accessibility issues when my first child was in a stroller– and suddenly there were bathrooms, stores, malls and even public sidewalks I could not negotiate with her. I was made conscious of how much more difficult it must be for people with physical disabilities who try to maneuver unassisted.It’s similar to the way our family is perhaps more attuned than many Caucasian folks to the subtleties of systemic racism because our youngest son is biracial. It’s hard to imagine being irritated by a teacher’s complimenting your child’s behavior– until you hear the underlying assumption that Those People are Usually A Problem.I’d agree that listening is key. “Those who have ears, let them hear.” But that goes both ways. Sometimes it’s hard to remember to look for the good intentions and the caring that are often there beneath the “unfair and uninformed questions” when we are faced with them. I also believe that if we want folks to listen, we also have the responsibility to try to speak in ways that can be heard– and to try to address their questions and assumptions in ways that I pray “those who have ears” can hear and own.

  2. And let’s not forget all the people that fall into the category of “you don’t look sick/disabled”. My son is in this category. When you see him across the sanctuary at church he looks like a perfectly normal 8 yr old. But, he’s not actually that. He has a whole host of issues that prevent him from sitting still and be quiet for an hour and a half. Most of the stuff we are dealing with isn’t even diagnosed yet. But, I can see from the looks on people’s faces that they just “don’t understand why I can’t control that child.” As if being a more stern or disciplined or affectionate or thoughtful parent would somehow make my child conform to the “standard” of behavior for an 8 yr old in church. We place so many assumptions on what we observe. It’s sad.

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