Disabled people have the same hobbies, interests and passions as non-disabled people. We also need to go through the same mundane motions as the rest of society – from getting about our houses, to doing our shopping and going to work. But, whatever our health condition, disability or impairment, we’re still a long way from having equal access to most aspects of daily life. From architecture to attitudes and everything in between, we are not there yet.
When you think of disabled access, what comes to mind? Is it an accessible toilet, a ramp or a lift? How about hearing loops, British Sign Language, lighing, braille, large text, easy read, personal assistants and the language we use?
Disabled access is so much more than ramps and toilets, and I want to share my thoughts on the least remembered yet most important element of access for disabled people everywhere – ATTITUDE! So, without further ado, here are my top 5 tips for being accessible by attitude:
BE OPEN MINDED
Attitude begins with open mindedness and understanding that, whatever your background there is, always more to learn. Disabled people, like anyone, are diverse and complex – they have different abilities and strengths and weaknesses and needs. Even people with the same impairment like to do things differently. Disabled people are not one size fits all. Treat disabled access as individual and listen to what people have to say.
THINK ABOUT YOUR LANGUAGE
Don’t be scared to talk for fear of saying the wrong thing. Disabled people have heard it all and as long as you have the right attitude and are willing to learn, say what feels right. When I’m accessing a building, event or attraction my general rules are to only ask what you need to know. You need to know how I can access the occasion. This doesn’t matter what my diagnosis is. Start by asking ‘How can I help?’ Don’t ask ‘What’s wrong with you?’ and don’t ask ‘How long have you been disabled?’ Always assume ability (go back to your first question, if a disabled person hasn’t mentioned that they need something, don’t assume that they do). Don’t be offended when a disabled person refuses your help – your offer is still appreciated. Most people prefer being referred to as a disabled person and some people prefer person first language such as ‘person with a disability’. Disability is not a dirty word but always consider whether you actually need to refer to someone’s disability and if not, just reference them as any other person – by their name or pronoun. Lastly, DO NOT make a joke or light-hearted comment about someone’s access requirements (unless you know that person well enough to do so). Just be friendly – good access really is in being a nice, friendly human.
Information is so important for disabled access and good access information demonstrates a good attitude. The more you think about the information you give, the more confident I will be in accessing a service. Share all of the information, even the parts where you aren’t quite so accessible. Most people will be much happier to access a service that isn’t fully accessible if you have the right attitude and know they will be supported to access the bits they can and treated with respect. When sharing information think about everything you can offer as well as the room layout, ticketing (if appropriate) and event format. Attitude is Everything have a great template for thinking about access information for people with disabilities.
Ask for feedback on your service from a wide range of disabled people and act on their feedback. If you have a business or you run an event, you can use feedback to sell your service, whilst demonstrating your attitude and making more disabled people feel welcome in future. Make sure you talk to disabled people and ask them how they’re finding it. Most disabled people will be so happy to share their experiences for improvement. I go to a lot of gigs – it’s my favourite thing to do. Disabled access and attitude is so varied in live music; I’ve experienced the very best and the very worst. I almost always give feedback when attending somewhere new and it feels so good to tell someone they’re doing something well. I wish more places would sell their good work through access information (tip number 3) so that more disabled people would access their service. Remember – the purple pound (that’s the spending power of disabled people) is worth £250 billion! Let’s start making disabled access competitive
SPREAD THE WORDBe an ally of disabled people by spreading the word of good practice and raising awareness of attitudinal barriers. Tell your friends about all aspects of disabled access and raise awareness of all the barriers that disabled people face – it’s not just about ramps and toilets! Make yourself aware of good initiatives that need to be recognised more, like the Access Card (http://www.accesscard.org.uk/), which helps businesses understand the needs of disabled people. Keep talking about the importance of attitude in disabled access. The more we talk about it, the better we’ll get at it!
|Hannah at a concert with a backpack for her enteral nutrition equipment|
Helpful Links for Disabled Access Day: