Accessibility at home and in the world at large is vital in enabling everyone to live as fully and comfortably as possible, providing somewhat closer to equal and fair access and usability for all. Here’s a look at what being accessible means and why it’s so important.
What Does It Mean To Be Accessible?
Any place, product and activity can cause an accessibility problem. Accessibility applies to both the offline and online worlds. Transport, buildings, products, services and activities should be available to all, and accessibility may sometimes mean that such things need to be adapted to ensure that happens. Making something accessible should make things easier or remove barriers to its use.
The Cambridge English Dictionary may define it more eloquently than I : Accessibility is “the fact of being able to be reached or obtained easily” & “the quality of being easy to understand.”
Being accessible should mean that nobody is excluded from doing or using something, and they should be able to do so with a reasonably equal amount of effort and time as those without a disability.
Perhaps the mostly commonly thought of requirement for accessibility is for wheelchairs. There are also various other conditions and disabilities that can be included here, from individuals that are sight impaired, blind or deaf, to those with learning disabilities, stomas, autism, and those needing walkers and sticks. The list goes on.
Assistive devices and technology can help enable access for those with disabilities, illnesses or special needs. This could be anything from easy to use lightweight wheelchairs to text-to-speech reading technology.
Making something accessible isn’t a one size fits all approach. What’s accessible for one person may be inaccessible for another. It’s also worth remembering that not all who need accessibility features have a visible disability because many invisible disabilities and illnesses also exist.
What Types of Accessibility Issues Can People Face?
Given the myriad of health issues and disabilities in existence, there are various ways in which people can face challenges, be they practical, visual, legal or auditory ones.
Those in wheelchairs can face issues with a lot of things that those without can ordinarily take for granted. For example, narrow or uneven pavements. Not enough dedicated wheelchair space on a bus or train. Doorways that aren’t wide enough, or lack of step-free access and no ramps. Stairs without a lift alternative. Small rooms and corridors without the space for manoeuvring. Limited disabled toilets. Tables and seating areas that aren’t wheelchair-friendly.
In addition to wheelchairs there are various other disabilities and chronic health conditions that may make usual day to day activities and places more challenging. Taking the example of toilets, I posted previously about public and disabled toilets for invisible conditions such as stomas and any other bowel, bladder or mobility condition.
The elderly and anyone with mobility or balance issues can find stairs to be a painful, difficult or challenging prospect. Likewise, buildings without exterior step-free access can be problematic.
Homes themselves should be ergonomic and yet most new builds still sadly fall short of being even close to disability-friendly. It’s been reported that only 7% of the housing stock in England meet even the basic, minimal requirements of accessibility to be classed a ‘visitable’ by a person with a disability.
Those with visual or hearing impairments can face issues with crossing roads or navigating open spaces safely, where the likes of tactile paving, public transport audio announcements and braille are important.
Individuals with autism may be confronted with chaos in any situation with no staff to respond with awareness and appropriate support.
It’s also important to think of the smaller things, like the products we use in our day to day lives, be that a can of soup or TV remote. Conceptual product design should take into consideration how ergonomic something is to use. To help bridge the gaps of inaccessibility, there are assistive products to help make things more manageable, from easy-grip handles for saucepans to mobiles with larger buttons.
Everything under the umbrellas of education and employment can potentially throw up barriers, such as the way in which education is delivered, the seating provided at work, and the rights employees have.
Issues of accessibility can be found online, too, with users navigating learning, shopping, memes, blogs, booking tickets, and so on. Technology, social media and the web need to be accessible for all, whether someone has neurological, cognitive-motor, auditory or visual disabilities.
Accessibility issues with public transport, holidays, playgrounds, lack of disabled parking…
There’s so much. You could probably think of just about anything and find a potential challenge.
The Cost Of Inaccessibility
A 23 year old man with cerebral palsy reported that he did “not feel human” because he couldn’t get on trains thanks to many platforms being inaccessible in a wheelchair. 21% of Welsh train stations, and 39% in the UK, don’t have step-free access, despite new standards that meant all trains within the UK should have been fully accessible by the start of 2020.
Being accessible often comes at a cost. Of course there’s a price put on most adaptions and adjustments, but I’d argue that it’s more than worth it, especially when you consider how high the cost of inaccessibility is.
Being inaccessible may have a physical and emotional impact. It can prevent an individual doing something altogether or limit their regularity of use. It can hold people back from life, socialising, leisure activities, employment and education.
The cost of inaccessibility could be anywhere from an annoyance, frustration and inconvenience, to being able to humiliate, invalidate and exclude individuals.
Nobody should feel like that. Nobody should feel they have to miss out or struggle because the social world is created one way and they it need another way for it to work for them.
An Accessible World
It may seem too optimistic, but I do think we can all hope for a truly accessible world one day because that would be a beautiful place. Those with disabilities, health conditions, learning difficulties and special needs wouldn’t feel like they have to be special cases, wondering what problems they’ll face at every turn. Individuals would feel empowered and included.
Small steps forward can add up, like bringing more awareness to the issue, campaigning for change, and highlighting areas of concern or improvement to companies and services. All of these gradual steps forward, no matter how small, can help in moving us towards that more accessible world.
Do you face any accessibility issues? Are there any particular areas that you think need more improvements or awareness?
[ This is a collaborative post written by myself ]