The Access:Check Maxim

In the last blog post I mentioned the “Access:Check Mantra”. In case you missed it here it is again:

It’s not about making it easy for disabled people, it’s about making it no more difficult than for everybody else.

So what exactly does that mean and why is it important?

Let’s start with some basics. Accessibility for disabled people is about equality. Disabled people are considered a minority in the UK and most other countries. There are over 13 million disabled people in the UK – around 20% of the population – yet our culture is not set up to accommodate this. From buildings to how our work days are structured disabled people are at a disadvantage compared to non-disabled people. This is a state of inequality and discrimination. Hopefully we can all recognise that this is not a good situation and we would want to address this systemic inequality. It’s such an issue that it has been made a part of law in many countries. In the UK this is the Equality Act 2010 and as a part of the Human Rights Act 1997.

So accessibility is about making the world a more equal place for disabled people.

There are some people who consider accessibility accommodations such as ramps and lifts, or even mobility aids like walking sticks and electric chairs, as “easy options” or even “cheating”. This is generally because they are looking at things through the eyes of a non-disabled person. Let me give you an example:

A business is on the upper floor of a building. There is a staircase with an even tread, good footing and a hand rail, and it is only one flight of stairs. There is also a lift. To the non-disabled person the lift looks like an easier option than the stairs. There is less effort and physical exertion needed. To the disabled person with mobility issues who can not use the stairs, it is the only option for getting to the business.

lift and stairs
Photograph showing a flight of stairs next to a customer lift inside a pet shop. Photograph taken by author. 

What we see here is equity. For a healthy non-disabled person using the stairs is a trivial matter that will have little cost to their health and well being and the stairs are no barrier to them accessing the business. For the disabled person the lift provides the same opportunity to access the business without cost to their well being.

It’s clear then that this accommodation isn’t about making life “easy” for the disabled person. It is about making life no more difficult than the non-disabled person experiences.

When we begin to appreciate this maxim and what it means it can make it easier for people to see the necessity of accessibility. Rather than thinking in terms of “special treatment” or making life “easy” for disabled people we see that what we are striving to do is to treat disabled people on a par with non-disabled people.

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