I’ve been a wheelchair user my entire life which, mind you, is no short time – 34 years are already behind me. And, as probably most of us folks with some kind of disability, I’ve had to talk about our problems countless times.
Doesn’t matter if you count yourself as an advocate and an activist or not, you’ve had the talks, too. I know you have.
And in all of these ‘disability problems’ talks, one thing always comes up, right? It’s accessibility. More specifically, it’s wheelchair accessibility.
Before we go any further, we have to define inclusion. Well, we don’t have to, actually. Luckily for us, it’s already been defined. So here it is: inclusion is the action or state of including or of being included within a group or structure.
In order to be included in any group or a structure – be it a school, college, workplace, or any other social or communal group or a structure, like a group of moviegoers in a cinema, patrons in a pub or commuters in a tram – a person needs to be present at the location at one point in time or another. Sure, the technological marvels of the 21st century allow us to be remotely present, but that’s not always possible, nor is it unequivocally desirable by any stretch of the imagination.
And therein lies the problem. If a person can’t be present somewhere, she or he can’t be included. Of course, we all can have various objective reasons for not being able to make ourselves present, like an illness, a cancelled flight or a traffic jam, but – and here’s the caveat – only people with various disabilities, wheelchair users specifically, have the exclusive right to an objective reason called ‘wheelchair (in)accessibility’. And this reason, unlike the other ones, hinders inclusion. Because it excludes wheelchair users outright.
That flu, cancelled flight and traffic jams are all unimportant, because I never could have planned to be there in the first place. It’s not that I wasn’t included within a group or structure, I physically couldn’t have been included. Because of my disability. Because of my wheelchair.
Is there a solution?
There’s always some kind of a solution. And in this case, the solution is twofold. What’s more, you can be a part of both sides of that solution. Let me clarify.
Obviously, the problem stems from structures – be it buildings or infrastructure – that are not wheelchair accessible. Also obvious is the fact that you can’t do much about that, can you? Well, maybe you can. Not by laying concrete foundations or stacking bricks, of course – you probably wouldn’t be allowed to do that even if you could do it physically – but by raising your voice. Become an active member of your community and warn about wheelchair accessibility issues you recognise in your surroundings. Become an advocate. And be loud about it.
The second way to tackle the issue is much more direct – if you can’t affect the changes in your environment, or you can’t do it fast enough, you can find a way to navigate the unchanged and inaccessible environment more easily and successfully. Simply put, this means choosing a wheelchair that suits you and your lifestyle, but it also allows you to achieve maximum attainable inclusion by helping as many locations as possible, wheelchair accessible, even if they weren’t originally designed and built as such.
Finally, keep in mind that one solution doesn’t exclude the other. Do choose the perfect wheelchair, but, at the same time, don’t forget to keep your voice up when it comes to wheelchair accessibility.