Disability is a massive word. It is an umbrella to say many things but I can’t help but think that so many people that should be dry under the umbrella are instead soaking wet because their disability is not a seen one. For example, take a partially sighted person using a cane, you see the cane you think blind person. I see that and think that person has a sight problem. Doesn’t have to be totally blind but merely an issue that restricts them from having the illusive 20/20 vision. But on the other hand, if you see someone in a wheelchair, you say that person can’t walk. That may not be the case, it I see that I think, that person has a impaired mobility. Disability is not black and white. There isn’t one condition that effects everyone and has the same outcome. If it were that simple the world wouldn’t be in such a mess.
What really gets me though is that when people consider disability and accessibility they don’t consider what should be under the umbrella. Predominantly, wheelchair access is addressed and that seems to be enough. I can almost picture the conversation between the decision makers, oh yeah we will put a ramp there, a lift there and disabled toilet there. Smile and pat themselves on the back for helping all of the poor disabled folk and drink a cup of tea from the same mug they have probably been using for 25 years on the rise to important man in big building. Well let me tell you sir, how am I to find the ramp with no tactiles? How am I to press the correct buttons in the lift with no indication of which one does what and how do I find the button that opens door without groping around like a complete idiot?
Don’t get me wrong, I applaud the efforts of wheelchair access to places. But, it isn’t just wheelchairs that need access. Ok I don’t need wheelchair access to walk into a building but what I do need is clear directions when I am in the building. This is a very general assessment and I am not pointing at any particular place but the issue is far and wide. Think about where you live, I bet it’s the same where you are.
Disabilities of all shapes and sizes should be considered in everything when developing anything, could be a website, could be a museum. The example I do want to use is the Wilson Art Galleries and Museum in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire UK. A few years back millions was spent to redevelop it. Great I thought, a perfect time to incoorporate accessibility for all. When I turn up there to have a look around, there was nothing there for blind and partially sighted people at all. I realise I am not doing much for the tourist trade of Cheltenham here but I don’t really care. The horses will be back soon anyway. I want to make clear, there is excellent access for wheelchairs on every level and disabled toilets a plenty. But it just goes to show, covering disability is a box ticking excersize whereas it should be seen as a total accessibility for all set up, the publicly owned gallery should be open to all to enjoy.
I am not ranting without attempting to do something about it either. I am a visualy impaired advisor to the visually impaired. I have worked with other museums in the past to make them accessible and I did offer to do this with the Wilson. However after offering them a less than £500 solution to the problem, it was swept to one side of the desk and never followed up. Not only wasting my time and effort but also not giving access to the museum to some of the 2million or so people in the UK that could make use out of it.
So, the next time you are considering ‘making your business disabled friendly’, consider the umbrella and don’t leave people outside to get soaked.
That’s it for now.
Catch you soon.