Came across this article on-line the other day ... thought I'd share. 

What did they miss?

What would you say other people can learn from you?

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Hi George,

I'm not sure if this exactly is along the same lines but since I started working for a charity that supports people who have a disability, my awareness of disabled access is much sharper. I don't mean I'm any kind of expert but when I visit a public place, my inner radar is automatically scanning and thinking things like "I had to go up a few steps to get in here. Where's the ramp or lift?" or "how can a deaf person get this same information that went out over the tannoy?"

Like I said, I don't pretend to be an authority on accessibiltiy but I like that I'm at least a bit more aware of these issues than I used to be. Education is an important step towards solving society's barriers. Not that long ago I was in conversation (through a BSL interpreter) with someone who was born without hearing. He explained that when people realise he's deaf they often start writing stuff down in an attempt to communicate. But this person isn't very good a understanding written English because it's so much more challenging to learn for someone who's deaf. Besides which, his first language is BSL. My mind was somewhat blown. I'd never even considered that. After all most of us learn the alphabet as children based on sound ("A is for apple" etc). Not to say it's impossible for a person who's deaf to read and write English but it presents more of a challenge. And because we call it British Sign Language I just thought of it as English language in a different format but it really is it's own thing. So anyhow I'm always learning new things.

Thanks for sharing the article.


Hi Paul,

You raise an important point that all disabled people could do well to remember. In all spheres of humanity, it's all but impossible to "walk in somebody else's shoes".

Before I became a wheelchair user I had no idea of "the everything" that surrounds being a wheelchair user. That doesn't mean I was a "bad" person before - or that I was ever intentionally rude or inconsiderate towards people with any form of disability.

I simply had no idea of the range and scope of problems and difficulties that came with a wheelchair.

It follows that as disabled people, WE need to explain to others what difficulties we face and what really helps or hinders.

Because ... if we don't do the explaining, the person who has never walked in our shoes truly has little to no idea and it's unreasonable to complain when they do or say the "wrong" thing.

Your deaf friend makes an excellent point - and one that I'd never really thought of. I moved to France a few years ago and it's fairly obvious that people here speak French. I can gabble or write as much as I like to the locals in English but - though they try (the joke around here is that "Franglais" is the native tongue! ;>)) - English is very much a second language for them. If I want to communicate here, it's my job to speak French. When I need to register my car or apply for a new parking badge I doubt I'd get very far by demanding that the necessary forms are provided to me in English - and, even if they were, the person processing the form wuld then have the problem of understanding whatever I wrote!

My example of moving to a country with a different native language has a point. The point is that it is OBVIOUS that you have a NEED to speak the local language ... or lead a very isolated existence.

With disabilities, the differences (NEEDS) are often not so obvious. Unless they are set out for others to understand it is unreasonable to expect them to accommodate us - even if they are the most willing people on earth.

The article link I posted made a good point - that the rest of the world could learn a good deal from disabled people.

The flip side is that disabled people need to be willing to teach. I feel that too many are afraid of the imagined reaction they might get. That a simple, reasonable, politely expressed request might somehow offend or, worse, provoke an unwelcome reaction.

Whether "teaching" means asking for a wheelchair ramp or lift where none is obviously in sight, requesting that somebody speaks BSL or that restaurants provide a Braille menu, unless we get our needs across, the world isn't somehow magically going to satisfy them.

I'll give an example from my experience. In France, for some reason unknown to me, it seems that shops *have* to have a step from the street level - I have even seen newly refurbished shops having steps built across the entrances! Anyway - you can imagine this makes the process of spending money in the shops close to impossible for wheelchair users. Here's the kicker ... most of these shops have ramps - hidden away inside!!! If you can catch someone's attention and ask, staff are usually happy to fetch the ramp and place it proudly before you so that you might enter their shop. Then - as soon as you've made your purchases and left the premises ... they take the ramp away again.

I've lost count of the number of French shopkeepers I've asked "Why don't you just put the ramp out when you open the shop in the morning and put it away when you close up?" The answers vary but the unspoken truth is that France still has a way to go with attitudes toward disability (they're improving, but the "risk" of offending able-bodied customers by making them 'walk the ramp' clearly carries great weight)  ... there's something about making customers step up into a shop that strikes a deeply held cultural bell. So the ramps get put away (mostly).

Bit of a side track there ... the point I wanted to make is that I ask and am usually rewarded with a warm smile, the provision of a ramp and an opportunity to peruse and, perhaps, to buy.

Of course, I could take the narky attitude that if the shop-owners are too indolent or inconsiderate to have already provided access by the time I roll up then it's their loss that they don't get my custom and I'll jolly well take my money elsewhere.

Which rather begs the question of how your deaf friend reacts - faced with a situation where his personal disability lets him physically access the shop without difficulty ... but he can't then get the shop assistant to understand what it is he came in for!

Same choice: Ask (and hope for a pleasant surprise) or walk away in a huff.

I've found that even when my request for a ramp is met with a 'Non' - it's still worth asking as it opens the proprietors eyes to the fact that for the sake of 20 Euros spent on a wooden ramp they just lost a customer - one of many to whom they could be selling many hundreds and thousands of Euros of wares.

Maybe we should all carry a stock of printed cards that we can hand (or throw - according to temperament!) to shops, restaurants and other places that explain why we're not giving them any business?

As the article I linked to makes clear, disabled people have much more to teach - positively. Just one example, disabled people generally have an attitude to life many others might learn from. Whether we have money to spend, skills to offer or attitudes and behaviours learned from our unique experiences, all disabled people have plenty to offer society - which is why we all have a right to play an equal part in it - and the broader society needs to learn/understand that it's worth including us ... which means accommodating our needs.

So, we have to "prime the pump" by telling others what we need.

My two penn'orth, anyway.



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