Monday, 3 June 2019
What do I mean by accessible?
I thought I knew what "accessible" meant as an engineer - step free access to the building and a push button front door.
No! Not even close.
I thought I knew what "accessible" meant as a minister - a ramped route to the church, an open door for services, a hearing loop and friendly helpful people.
Getting better, but... Not enough!
I thought I knew what "accessible" meant as a blind wheelchair user - all the above plus wide door ways, rooms with space for wheelchairs and their turning circles, places for wheelchairs in various locations to give choice, Braille and large print and (even better) electronic materials in advance, accessible toilets and people who understand that disabled people have much to offer.
Much better. But what about provisions for other disabilities such as hearing loss, learning disabilities, pain and fatigue disabilities and autism....
I'm still learning what accessible really means, both through my own experience and that of other disabled people I meet. But what I've learned is that there is no definition of "accessible" that fits everyone. Or at least not anywhere I've found.
As a disabled person I can never make any assumption on accessibility anywhere. I need to take into account all of the following issues:
1. The driving and parking or public transport access and it's proximity to the venue
2. The energy this travel uses and therefore what will be left
3. The access to the venue
4. The toilet facilities at the venue
5. The information provision for sight loss at the venue
6. The noise levels inside the venue since echoes and lots of conflicting noise are pain inducing (though music is not)
7. The food options at the venue (though I can bring my own)
8. The length of time I need to be at the venue
9. The possibility of any rest space at the venue
10. The return trip home
Everywhere I go I have to ring to check all of these details. This is true for every form of transport, every church, every museum, every concert, every place I eat, everywhere I stay.
I can't rely on the internet, although I've no idea how anyone coped before it; I've learned the internet can be mistaken or just plain wrong. I have to email and ring to get details of facilities and even then I've learned to get confirmation in writing after a wheelchair accessible room couldn't fit my wheelchair into the bathroom!
So please don't ever assume that somewhere is accessible unless you know what access I need; and please don't state somewhere is accessible without stating what that means exactly.
Provision of clear access information is essential for everyone but especially anyone with disabilities for whom it can be a catastrophe (literally) if we arrive somewhere and there's no adequate facilities.
I don't expect everywhere to be perfect, but I like to know what I'm going to find before I use a lot of energy getting somewhere inaccessible to me.
PS - would you be surprised that some of the worst places for true accessibility are...... Hospitals!