By: Hailey Miller, Staff Writer
December 3 is International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPWD). This day recognizes people with disabilities — the world’s largest minority — by shining light on the inequalities we experience while also celebrating our lives as individuals navigating society. Though I agree these issues are important and need awareness, there is a difference between awareness and inclusivity.
Disabled people still face many accessibility and inclusion issues today. Inaccessible places are everywhere — schools, workplaces, restaurants, venues, and even medical facilities. When it comes to inclusion and wanting to live our lives alongside everyone else, it’s difficult to do so when we have to manoeuvre around accessibility issues daily. Structures that exclude disabled people include: no ramps or let-down access for wheelchairs, no elevators, no handrails on stairs, no access to braille, subtitles, or audio adjustments, and a general lack of accessible technology. How are disabled people supposed to participate if we can’t even get through the door or follow conversations? It’s important for us to have as much access to spaces as everyone else, rather than stopping efforts at “awareness.”
Some places are more accessible than others, just as acceptance and inclusion towards disability around the world varies. We should be aiming to create better standards for universal accessibility. The Rick Hansen Foundation — whose mission is to remove physical barriers in daily life — does a phenomenal job at assessing accessibility standards, having these implemented in public spaces, and creating an accessible standard that should be followed and included everywhere. These guidelines can create a starting point for public spaces.
I used to wear my disability on my sleeve. Now, I don’t stress about explaining it to others. As someone who was born disabled, there are certain instances in life where I no longer care much about it. This is not to say that it doesn’t matter, but rather, that I don’t see my disability as being the sole characteristic that defines me. Of course, we all have our struggles and challenges, but there is so much more to our lives than being defined by disability. Accessibility and inclusion are the backbone of tangible action. IDPWD attempts to uplift disabled people without acknowledging all the diverse facets of our lives. What is especially important is the matter of society allowing disabled individuals to live their lives as anyone else, and this is where accessibility, inclusion, and advocacy are of utmost importance.
Without accessibility, inclusion is an extreme challenge, but it is also a standalone issue. Including disabled people in workplaces, community groups, and regular day-to-day endeavours is immensely important. This is more than just knowing someone with a disability or including them in your life. Inclusion means workplaces are willing to hire a disabled person, get to know and understand their needs, and provide appropriate accommodations for them. It is actively working against ableism in all facets of life.
As someone who has dealt with a physical disorder all my life, I understand many of the struggles and challenges we face. I know the hardships of navigating day-to-day life, advocating for myself, requesting accommodations, noticing accessibility issues (and recognizing where accessibility is well-implemented), and experiencing issues like inequality and lack of inclusion. The reality is that this day has not served disabled people as it should. Awareness, without action, does not serve people.
IDPWD should involve more than just shining a light on individuals with disabilities and bringing awareness to our lives and accomplishments. Disabled people are just as worthy of every opportunity in life as able-bodied people are. It is accessibility and inclusion that continually need to be implemented and improved. They allow us to live our lives to the full extent that we are capable of — we simply deserve these things as basic human rights.