People with disabilities deserve to have access to live their lives as independently as possible. Many of the barriers we face are due to lack of access. That is why on September 26, 2015 I urge you all to take part in the first Access Equality Day. People across the United States will be finding ways to protest the lack of access people with disabilities face every day. We need to make the world aware of where we lack access and work together to try and eradicate these barriers.
Barriers to Access May Include:
- Access to Communication: This can be anything that limits the ability of individuals to communicate with the world around them. Some of the areas we are advocating for include providing assistive technology to give non-verbal individuals a way to “speak” and express themselves, working with schools to integrate ASL and other alternative languages into primary curriculum, and making closed captioning and audio descriptions available on all media content.
- Access to the Physical World: People with disabilities face many physical barriers, and this can be broken up into multiple groups including:
– access to public transportation
– physical access to buildings through the use of ramps, elevators, wider doorways, etc.
– curb cuts on sidewalks and sidewalks that are free of physical barriers like potholes and tree roots, which make utilizing them impossible
– other external barriers that make traveling around the world difficult, such as a lack of braille pretty much anywhere, lack of acoustic and tactile signals at street crossings, and inaccessible subway stations
– the inability to access most buildings built before 1990 if you use a wheelchair or other mobility device, due to the exemption requiring businesses to be accessible in the ADA
- Access to Housing: Finding housing can be difficult (often impossible), especially if you have a physical disability. Even with regulations in place for public housing, a lot of apartment buildings are still not wheelchair accessible. Older housing can be quite difficult to navigate, and there is absolutely no requirements for new builders to make any of their homes accessible.
- Access to Marriage, Relationships, and Family: In some states it is still illegal for individuals with intellectual disabilities to marry. These regulations are not always followed, but sometimes they are. Individuals reliant on social services, such as home health care, or who rely on SSI/SSDI to live as their disability affects their ability to work, often must choose between getting married and keeping such services. With no alternatives to said services, these individuals have little choice but to choose to not marry. In some instances, the government can even penalize individuals for being in relationships as though they are married, even when they are not legally married.
Disabled people also face discrimination when it comes to being parents and there are barriers to family planning. We are more likely to lose our children simply because we have a disability. We can be prevented from adopting or fostering children, simply because we have a disability. No one should ever have to live in fear of losing their children, especially if they are a loving, caring parent who just happens to have a disability.
- Stigma: There is a great amount of stigma that provides an excessive amount of barriers to the disabled community. It can affect professional relationships. It can affect friendships. It can limit the exposure to the community around us. While there is a stigma against all types of disabilities, it is the worst for those with invisible disabilities, especially autistic individuals and those with mental health oriented disabilities. Removing the stigma would provide a great deal of opportunities not afforded to people with disabilities currently.
- Access to Healthcare: Not only is healthcare not affordable, when you have a disability, you may be limited in what healthcare provider is allowed to pay for the services you need. For example, those who rely on home healthcare to be independent have one choice beyond paying out-of-pocket (which is often not an option), and that choice is Medicaid. Since Medicaid is a financially-based program, this means that in order to get home healthcare services many people with disabilities have no choice but to live in poverty. There are no other insurances that offer PCA care!
For the greater disability community, doctors offices are not always accessible. There is a huge misconception when it comes to providing sexual health initiatives to individuals with disabilities, especially women with disabilities. Many women do not know their rights or options, and it can be hard for those with disabilities to get necessary examinations, such as pap smears because professionals are either not qualified to accommodate women with disabilities or their office lacks accessibility. In fact, many doctors are not trained on how to deal with patients that have disabilities, and their lack of knowledge can affect treatment options. Those with severe physical disabilities face a significant threat of being harmed when hospitalized because hospitals are ill-equipped to deal with a plethora of physical needs.
It should be noted that sexual health and well-being can be impacted in terms of self-expression, body image, and body autonomy. Disabled bodies are often seen as broken, grotesque, or abnormal. The ability to express ourselves sexually as disabled individuals is often stifled or even criminalized.
- Access to Education: Most primary and secondary schools lack the knowledge and forethought to deal with students that have disabilities. Children are often thrust into special education. There have been instances of abuse and teachers overreaching their authority when dealing with disabled students. Colleges can also lack accessibility. There is little incentive for students with disabilities to be educated beyond high school.
- Access to Employment: Over 80% of disabled people in the United States are unemployed. Part of this is due to the financial penalty many face if they need social services. If you rely on programs like Medicaid, employment can mean you make too much money to qualify for necessary and sometimes life-saving services. Many individuals with disabilities have no choice but to remain unemployed.
When I was part of a board for a nonprofit that served the neuromuscular disabilities community we did a survey, and what we found was that people with neuromuscular disabilities are some of the most highly educated individuals. They are also some of the poorest individuals. What causes this disparity? Many of us rely on home healthcare, but there is something more. There is rampant job discrimination, even though it’s illegal to discriminate against someone with a disability in the workplace. It can be impossible to prove, but how do you explain the fact that highly qualified individuals, people with PhDs, Master’s degrees, and/or JDs, are living in poverty? I have friends who have struggled for years to even get an interview, despite the fact that they were highly qualified for any job in which they applied.
- Access to Safety: Disabled people, especially those with invisible disabilities face a significant threat to their safety. Law enforcement is not trained, even though in many states they are required to be, to handle situations that involve individuals with disabilities. This has led to an inordinate amount of incidents involving police brutality, and has even led to the death of many of our disabled brethren. This significantly affects black disabled individuals and other racial minorities in our community more than any other race, though it can happen to anyone with a disability.
The vast majority of cases of police brutality that we have seen in recent months have happened to individuals who happen to have disabilities. While we have seen incidents involving individuals in wheelchairs who have been thrown from their mobility devices, an overwhelming amount of incidents have occurred to people who are autistic, have Down Syndrome, or have a form of mental illness. People with disabilities are dying simply because they have disabilities, particularly when they are in need of help. This has to change!
- Access to Technology: This may include access to assistive technology, but also access to essential technology such as cell phones and the Internet. The Internet now has standards that address all of the accessibility concerns for a large plethora of disabilities. However, these are not always followed, and there are no regulations making it required. Making websites accessible to screen readers, recorded voice, accommodations like captioning and transcripts for the Deaf, as well as access to programs like Dragon Naturally Speaking are all part of the process to make computers and the Internet accessible. The Internet has become an essential part of our lives, and therefore it needs to be accessible to everyone.
- Access to Authentic Representation in Media: We are the world’s largest minority, but we are also the least represented in the media. We lack authentic representation in film, television, new media, and even the news. Our society looks to the media to better understand that with which they lack experience or understanding. With little visibility, most people do not understand and continue to fear disability. The more exposure they have to disability in the media, the greater effect it has on our community. Of course, how we are portrayed can greatly affect how we are treated. It can also affect important legislation, as the more we are visible, the more important it is to see our needs met. We deserve greater representation that is both positive and authentic, and it needs to be provided with the inclusion of disabled people.
These are just some of the barriers the disability community faces. Every issue may not affect every single person with a disability, as we all have very different needs. However, these are some of the greatest barriers affecting large portions of our community. There are other barriers not listed, which may be important to you, so we encourage you to participate and highlight these barriers!
How you can Participate:
CONTACT YOUR REPRESENTATIVES: Choose an issue or choose all of them. Let your representatives know that access equality is important, and that people with disabilities have the right to participate in society and the world around them as independently as possible. Send them an email. Call them. Tweet them. Post on their Facebook. Let them know that these issues cannot be ignored, and that they need to participate in the quest to make the world more accessible to all people.
Here are some ways to find your representatives:
TTY/TDD # for the White House: Comment Line: 202-456-6213
If you need help crafting an email, feel free to contact me on social media, and I will help you!
SHARE SHARE SHARE: Please share this post and the event all over the web. Feel free to share it on your blogs. Feel free to share it on social media. The more people who see this the greater chance we will have of spreading the message that people with disabilities deserve access equality.
#AccessEquality: Use this # on September 26, 2015, the day of Access Equality, to share your story about the lack of access you have experienced. Make sure to use it on both Facebook and Twitter.
EXPRESS YOURSELF: Join us by writing about your experiences with access barriers. Make a vow to participate by blogging. Share your articles with us, and we will compile them into a powerful document, which will be a testament to the lack of access so many of us with disabilities face. There is strength in numbers, and we need your voice. Feel free to come back and post a link to your articles in the comments. Vow to publish a blog post or article highlighting your experiences on September 26. Of course, this is not just limited to writing. Upload a podcast, video, or images, which highlight lack of access for disabled people. Feel free to be as creative as you want! The sky’s the limit.
Let’s show the world that we are here and we demand change!
JOIN US: Like and follow our Facebook page, which is located here. We will be sharing pictures of access barriers, blog postings and articles, and anything else you submit to us on September 26,, 2015 and beyond! Our voices are stronger when we are united, so join us in spreading the message!
PROTEST: Most cities allow you to protest without permits on public sidewalks. Go out with friends and let your voices be heard. Go out and let people in your community see, understand, and learn about the issues people with disabilities face! Take a group of friends or protest on your own.
Stay tuned for further details, as we will be offering prizes for participation, and additional events and opportunities for participation.
Anyone is free to participate, though we definitely want to hear the voices of the disability community. However, we are nothing without our allies, so please help us to spread the word and our message.
YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE DISABLED TO SUPPORT DISABILITY RIGHTS!
DISABILITY RIGHTS = HUMAN RIGHTS
There are over 56 million people in the United States alone, and over 1 billion people in the world with disabilities. Disability can affect nearly every family at some point. Now is the time to act. If you do not have a disability, stand with us and support a day of Access Equality!