Updated: Nov 28, 2021
By Ross Tanner and Ally Lloyd
Last weeks post touched upon just how big a problem accessibility is, and how isolating and demoralising it can be for individuals up against it, and how widespread a problem it is in a way you may never have noticed. This makes having friends who both support you with this and share the anger and desire to make change in this area, invaluable. Therefore, this post is a mixture of things you can do, both to support your friends with the way things are now, and to try and bring about the much needed change. We have written about accessibility from our experiences, but accessibility means so many different things for so many different people, and we know we have lots more to learn and understand, which brings us to our first idea…
Possibly the most important one! Listen to people with disabilities about what would make things more accessible to them. This is will be so different for someone who is visually impaired to someone with a neurodivergence like ADHD, and different still for someone who is a wheelchair user, or someone with anxiety. Asking and listening is the best way to ensure that spaces are genuinely accessible and work for people. The listening part of this is especially important because the chances are people are pointing out the problems already, you just need to tune into thinking about and being receptive to ideas about accessibility and you’ll hear them. Writing this we can only talk from our experiences of accessibility, and peers we have had discussions with, and articles and interviews we have read, and we know there is so much more we need to keep listening for!
2. Start Noticing and Be Aware
Imagine you’re on your way home from town and you fancy getting the Subway home because you’re tired, a bit wet from the rain and you all round can’t be bothered. However, the subway stop that you need to get off only has stairs that are so big that your legs can’t reach them, so you have to get off at a different stop with normal size stairs. While this is hypothetical, it can be a reality for people with disabilities. Being able bodied with good mental health, these barriers of inaccessibility do not trouble us and therefore just aren’t on our radar. CHANGE! However, it is vital that we start being aware of the simple (and stupid) obstacles that can make socialising and everyday life difficult for friends with disabilities and chronic illnesses, as being aware and noticing them is the first step to adapting and changing them.
A few possible things to notice when you’re out and about are things like flashing lights, loud noises, whether a building has an alternate way to access it and its floors e.g. lifts and ramps. One thing to point out which might put in perspective the importance of this is all of Glasgow’s 15 Subway stations, only one of them has a lift and wheelchairs are only “permitted if folded up”. So, if you’re a wheelchair user you can only get on and off at one station (?????????) and even then, you have to fold up your wheelchair and get one the subway with it. Flashing lights and loud noises add to the ambience and environment of pre’s/party’s/night’s out, however, for many it can ruin or even discourage people from going out, as for many chronic illnesses they can cause issues, such as migraines or sensory overload.
On a similar note, notice how things are for your friends. If you come across some inaccessibility make a judgement based on knowing them and how they seem in the moment as to whether this is something where the best reaction is to be light hearted and laugh with them about it and make a joke and keep things light and breezy. Like one night where the place we arrived was down lots of stairs and it turned into a joke as Beth piggybacked down on Ally whilst another friend carried down her wheelchair, and we joked and made light of the fact it was stupid and innaccesible, before continuing to have a fab night. Or, noticing whether it is a situation where the lack of accessibility is something that is genuinely, and understandably, upsetting, and tuning into this as well. Giving your friend space to be upset and angry, without any kind of “oh on the bright side” or “oh silver lining”, because actually a lot of the time things being so inaccessible is upsetting, particularly if it is a full stop barrier preventing them from doing something. Being angry and upset with them too, making it clear that them that the inaccesibility is the issue here, not them, and they are not alone in finding in so frustrating. Usually, making light of it will come later when everything feels less raw and more manageable, and noticing when is right is important.
The middle one is how we feel about the issue of accessibility (grr), and the other two are how we feel about managing it with friends (less grr!) !
3. Use Your Initiative
Following on nicely from my previous point; once you realise how inaccessible our world is, start using your initiative. When organising meetups and activities with friends there are a few things to bear in mind, so I’ve tried my best to give you a ‘guide’ and categorised them to keep it simple: location, activity, primary accessibility, and secondary accessibility.
Before I begin to explain the concepts, just a reminder to refer back to Tip No. 1, Listen! Accessibility means so many different things for different people so make sure you are properly listening to your friends and have a conversation with them about what it means for them.
Location: while this is an obvious factor it is often forgotten about. When picking a location, put yourself in their shoes and think about what’s the easiest location for them to access, are there lots of hills, roads, could you walk with them etc. All of these things can make a massive difference to your friends’ confidence and overall wellbeing in being able to come along;
Activity: Again, this requires you to have conversations. Will the activity be too physically demanding, does it require late nights, drinking, large crowds… you should never underestimate or assume people with disabilities capabilities – Both Beth and Ally are master climbers and P.A.R.T.Y animals. However, I talk to them about their limits and know when they might be having a bad day;
Primary accessibility: This is not a scientific term (I don’t think) I’m just calling it ‘primary accessibility because it makes the most sense (maybe I’ve coined something here). What I mean by ‘primary accessibility’ are the more physical and immediate obstacles which can make things inaccessible, such as steps, small spaces that don’t leave room to maneuver a wheelchair, , bumpy and hilly roads. Being prevented from taking in fun activities with friends because of these (stupid) obstacles can isolate people;
Secondary accessibility: This refers to (again a made-up term by moi) the obstacle that you can’t see which make life and activities inaccessible. The two main things that secondary accessibility umbrellas is sensory overloads, like loud noises and flashing lights. These can be triggers for many disabilities, ranging from autism to epilepsy, and PTSD to cerebral palsy, and so many more. These can be a barrier to you having fun with friends and a real knock in people’s confidence.
Just try to bear some of these things in mind when arranging meet ups etc. While it may seem like a lot they very quickly become second nature!
4. Use Your Skills!
This is one aimed at actually making some changes to the problem of accessibility. The need for things to be accessible extents to just about every sphere of life! Whatever your skillset or whatever circles you work and spend time in, there will be things you can do! Just because you may not be planning to build and open a café (for example) where the need for it to be wheelchair accessible is obvious, doesn’t mean there isn’t things you can do to make things more accessible! For instance, Sainsbury’s have recently introduced the “Sunflower lanyards” which people with invisible disabilities and additional needs, such as anxiety or autism can wear to indicate to staff that they may need an extra hand with shopping. This makes going to the shops more accessible and inclusive, and if you are someone who works in a shop then you can be part of this solution, both by suggesting things like this where you work, and being receptive to schemes like this.
Or, something totally different, if computers are your thing then think about accessibility when designing websites, programs, or tech products. As more and more of life becomes technology focused and more and more information internet based ensuring this is an accessible space is crucial. Things such as making sure that text is laid out in a way that a screen reader could accurately interpret or making sure that all audio content is accompanied by transcripts of captions are vital parts of accessibility ensuring people can access the information.
Basically, whatever space you are in, and whatever skill set you have you can make the little differences to accessibility that adds up, you just need to keep accessibility as a consideration! (But remember tip No. 1) Listen to people with accessibility needs, don’t just assume!!!)
5. Write to your local MP/MSP/Councillor!
Annnnd the classic suggestion for helping achieve change! But genuinely, while it may feel like it’s always mentioned, it is SO important! It means that you keep this on their agenda. It’s particularly important as it will likely not be something on their mind. It is literally their job to listen and make changes that work for us and they hold the power and resources to make things more accessible. For example, just this month Scotland banned “Pavement Parking”, making it illegal to park on the pavement. This will be a game changer for wheelchair users as a car parked partially on the pavement can be enough to prevent someone being able to continue their journey. A step in the right direction but so many more steps needed! Having people point out inadequacies that they might not even be aware of is therefore really useful. For example, around Glasgow Byres Road’s pavements are is in desperate need of redoing, something many people know complaining about the way it looks, however what they may not be aware of is how hard this makes it to navigate in a wheelchair. Shining a light on this is therefore valuable.
Some campaigns have even taken this further, really encouraging decision makers to put themselves in other’s shoes. In 2017 “Transport for all” ran a campaign in 2017 where they got constituents to invite their local MP to take a journey with them to give them a real insight into inaccessibility problems associated with public transport. The MP’s that took part went on to describe it as “an eye-opening experience” and they went on to make positive changes to do with accessibility. (You can see more here! https://www.transportforall.org.uk/about/news/take-your-mp-on-a-trip-to-show-them-the-barriers-we-face)
Thanks for reading guys! We would love to hear your ideas top tips and thoughts!