Monday, January 5, 2015

Let’s Make A Deal

Icon of 3-D stick figures, one red, one blue, shaking hands over a conference table
The #StopAbleism2015 hashtag got me thinking. What would a workable end to ableism entail?

For most of my adult life, I think I have had in mind some kind of deal, a social contract between disabled people and the rest of society. Something like:

We (disabled people) agree that the rest of you (mostly non-disabled people) don't have to know about our specific disabilities, anticipate our accommodation needs, or understand how we feel about being disabled. In other words, you are all off the hook from having “disability awareness". We’ll even forgive the stupid things you sometimes say about disability, as long as it's clear you're not being intentionally mean or provocative.

In return, we expect that our communities and everyday routines will be accessible to people with all kinds of disabilities. Simply following established accessibility standards and adopting a few basic customer service strategies would be a great start. It doesn't require much special knowledge or training … and we’re happy to help you figure it out if you have questions. These things should happen pretty quickly, without constant prompting or advocacy from us.

For the stuff we don't expect you to anticipate … needs that are very specific to each of us and our unique disabilities … all we ask is that you remain open-minded and flexible. We will tell you what we need and what works for us. All you have to do is listen and do what we ask, within reason, safety, and your own abilities.

To put it more simply:

We won't expect you to know and understand everything about everyone’s disability, and we won’t hold you responsible for perfect social behavior at all times.

We do expect you to do all that you can do to accommodate us, with tools and techniques that are widely and easily available. We also expect you to listen to us and use us as guides on how to treat us.

This "deal" is based on a fairly simple premise:

Access > Awareness

How does that sound?