National AccessAbility Week – May 30 to June 5, 2021

May 31, 2021

To enter the conversation around disability inclusion, first consider the concept of disability exclusion. Have you ever experienced it?

Have you ever been excluded because of disability? I have.

Have you ever been unconsidered because of disability? I have.

Have you ever just been left out and not understood why? I have.

Persons with  a disability have struggled to be included into the fabric of society on an equal and equitable keel. Things that some take for granted are barriers to others.

A single step in front of a building doesn’t seem like much of a barrier, unless you have a mobility disability.

A movie theatre seems to be barrier free, unless you are deaf and there is no closed captioning.

An elevator seems to be an accessibility tool, unless you are blind and braille is absent from the floor indicator keyboard.

What does accessibility mean? Is that ever a concern or even a consideration for most people?

Accessibility is about more than removing barriers. It is about creating spaces and situations where everyone feels welcomed, even invited, so that they can participate obstruction and discrimination free.

National AccessAbility Week (NAAW) is an opportunity to:

  • celebrate the valuable contributions of persons with disabilities,
  • acknowledge the accomplishments of individuals, communities and workplaces to remove barriers to accessibility and inclusion,
  • recognize the ongoing work we all have to do to counter discrimination against persons with disabilities, and
  • promote a culture of inclusion.

I was recently contacted by a student from about 28 years ago. He was a student in the school where I taught, but was not a student in my class. He recounted one of his remembrances. He shared the following:

“One day he observed a student making fun of me behind my back. I had heard the student, and addressed them. I explained why my gait was as it was. I offered them an opportunity to experience, in a limited way, what I experience with every step. I suggested that the student place a lift under their shoe equivalent to the size of a 2×4 to create a leg length discrepancy and to then walk around and observe the changes to their gait. They explained that that moment had a profound affect on them and was the moment when they learned about empathy, to view things from another’s perspective, and to not judge. They stated that they went home and tried the experiment themself.”

If we are going to affect a cultural change with respect to the perception of accessibility, we need to focus the conversation on removing barriers, enhancing inclusivity and recognizing the diversity of contributions by persons with disabilities. As was the student, we all need to become participants in the change.

It is only by working together that we will achieve a truly accessible and inclusive society that leaves no one behind.

Michael Freeman,
UNE National Equity Representative for Persons with Disabilities