Saturday, December 14, 2013

Photo Of The Day

Green plastic army man in wheelchair
From the Vuas Tumblr blog, via Rolling Through Life.

Old Arguments and Disability Studies

Girl With The Cane - December 14, 2013
“... people that need that wheelchair ramp to be clear in order to get into the business didn’t ask for the disabilities that make a wheelchair ramp a necessity, and their money is just as good as everyone else’s. Business owners need to ask themselves if they can afford to potentially turn clientele away.”
This is the most widely used argument … aside from adherence to accessibility codes … for making businesses accessible to people with disabilities. For a long time, particularly in the years immediately following the Americans with Disabilities Act, it was a new, almost radical argument. Accessibility isn’t about compassion for the disabled, it’s good business! I still think it’s a very good argument today. The trouble is, I don’t think we really know how good an argument it is. Where are the studies showing not just the potential economic clout of disabled people, but the difference it makes for real businesses when they are or aren’t accessible?

Do disabled people and their families, in fact, shun establishments that aren’t accessible? Are elderly people in significant numbers conscious of accessibility as a distinct issue, in a way that affects their decisions about where to shop and eat? What about other variables, like the age of buildings, downtown vs. urban sprawl locations, and type of business? Are businesses with affordable prices more, or less likely to be accessible? Do accessible businesses tend to be “high end” and expensive? How much can a business actually benefit from improving accessibility? How significant is the loss if they don’t?

I’m not suggesting that the answers to these questions would change our objectives or lessen our commitment to accessibility, but some updated facts might change our tactics, or our understanding of why business people think the way they do about people with disabilities.

Emma Tracey, BBC News Ouch! - December 3, 2013
“One of my concerns with disability studies degrees, is that most of what people are learning about can't be turned into concrete knowledge to improve the general public's understanding of disability. It seems to be very much about phenomenology and post-modernism, which pass most people on the street by."
My questions above reminded me of this piece I read on the BBC "Ouch" website, which includes an interview with Richard Reiser, an Englishman who is both familiar with and critical of "Disability Studies". I think it's the first time I've heard a credible disability activist articulate an essential question I've had for awhile about Disability Studies ... What, exactly does Disability Studies study? And, does it study any of the questions I, as a disabled person, am interested in? We've been using the same arguments and statistics (more or less) that we've been using in discussions of accessibility, economic influence, employment and the like, since at least the early '90s and probably before. It would be helpful if university-based programs whose job is to "study" "disability" would delve into these practical questions, along with the cultural and philosophical pursuits the field is known for.

For all I know, there may be lots of studies by Disability Studies scholars on the psychology of disability discrimination, the economic status of disabled people, what HR professionals really think about hiring disabled people, why disabled people seems of be fair game now for accusations of fraud or laziness, and how disciplined people with disabilities are in fighting for our rights in the marketplace. But if such studies exist, I haven't seen them, and I've been looking.