In discussing accessibility solely through the disability lens, we limit who benefits from access

What happens when we think of access, not as logistical but an act of making the space open for more people? What would we make possible by opening up how we perceived this act?

Srinidhi Raghavan December 13, 2020 09:15:17 IST
In discussing accessibility solely through the disability lens, we limit who benefits from access

Ramps, captioning, bigger or easier-to-read fonts, trigger warnings and content descriptions benefit more people than we like to imagine or accept even. Image via Pixabay

What is ‘normal’? In this fortnightly column, Srinidhi Raghavan explores the understanding of bodies-minds and navigating spaces as disabled, chronically ill and sick people. Read more from the series here.

***

2020 was the year of webinars. Like everyone else, I attended, curated and organised many; so many that I cannot remember how many. Initially I was just so excited to have and listen to these interesting conversations from the comfort of my bed, on my computer, a click away. I got comfortable in bed with my hot pack and tea and listened to folks dreaming and reimagining new worlds.

I said yes to being part of more webinars than I would have if they were conferences that required me to travel, to pack suitcases and be physically present somewhere. Attending conferences and meetings required a level of energy I don’t remember having for years now. With a meeting or conference on my laptop, I could sit up in bed for those few hours, and slink underneath my covers with exhaustion once done. Saving much needed energy. This brought a world of information and participation to my door step. For many of us, this move brought with it a lot of gains. This is of course not true for everyone with disabilities and otherwise.

Access as a conversation is a common one I have had ever since I began working with disabled people: “Is that presentation accessible?”; “Was the width of the hotel door wide enough for a wheelchair?”; “Did we factor in enough time for breaks?”; “Do we have sign language interpreters?”. Conversations many of us had when we were planning our meetings, conferences and events. While the platform/medium now shifted to the digital space, the conversations were still around access: “Is the platform screen reader accessible?”; “Do we have alternate modes of communication open for people?” And so on…

What happens when we think of access, not as logistical but an act of making the space open for more people? What would we make possible by opening up how we perceived this act?

One of the things with thinking about access at the design stage is — we already are accommodating of multiple needs, bodies and minds. For example: it is possible that someone who is not disabled would benefit from the captions provided at events. Or even someone whose access needs don’t include captioning might find them useful. Or everyone would benefit from comfortable seating and breaks to take rest.

When speaking about access purely through the disability lens, are we limiting who benefits from access? I was walking through a railway station in Bengaluru a while ago, when travelling was possible, and noticed how everyone at the station was using the ramp to move from one platform to the other. The stairs were right next to it, and yet no one was using it. Of course, we all know why. It is easier.

Captioning, ramps, bigger font, easier to read font, trigger warnings and content descriptions benefit more people than we like to imagine or accept even. If we began to see access in society as a starting point to build from, it would benefit not just disabled folks but so many of us, both on the margins and at the centre. For instance, though ramps are meant to ease movement for wheelchair users and others, I know that dragging my suitcase through a ramp is much easier for me than carrying it up a flight of stairs. I can imagine this is the case for many people, including elderly, those with children, pregnant women and more.

This concept of building keeping large groups of people in mind is termed as universal design. Universal Design attempts to design environments to be as accessible as possible for the largest number of people. That is, it attempts to create an environment that will not require too much change or alteration as we go along. Disabled feminist philosopher and writer Susan Wendell says that Universal Design calls for a “universal recognition that all structures have to be built and all activities have to be organised for the widest practical range of human abilities”. The purpose of accessible design is meant to meet the needs of disabled people. But universal design broadens this scope, i.e. it doesn’t limit who would or could benefit from the design.

Its intimate connection with logistics (a bathroom, a ramp, a doorway) has often reduced our ability to see access as something larger, expansive with room to grow and flourish. Disability justice activists and scholars have been terming access not just as a way to increase inclusion but as an act of collective care. Leah Lakshmi Piepzna Samarasinha says: “If collective access is revolutionary love without charity, how do we learn to love each other? How do we learn to do this love work of collective care that lifts us instead of abandons us, that grapples with all the deep ways in which care is complicated?”

So, I ask today, if #AccessIsLove (coined by Alice Wong, Mia Mingus and Sandy Ho) and collective access is an act of collective care, are we ready to begin loving and caring for one and other? Imagine building our cities, our public spaces with visions of collective access and care in mind.

Srinidhi Raghavan is a writer, researcher and trainer. She works at the intersections of sexuality, gender, disability and technology. She works on programme development with Rising Flame and is the co-founder of The Curio-city Collective.

Updated Date:

Find latest and upcoming tech gadgets online on Tech2 Gadgets. Get technology news, gadgets reviews & ratings. Popular gadgets including laptop, tablet and mobile specifications, features, prices, comparison.

also read

Sexual harassment in the Indian classical arts: Recent cases re-indict complicity of enablers and those staying silent
Arts & Culture

Sexual harassment in the Indian classical arts: Recent cases re-indict complicity of enablers and those staying silent

Enablers are among the main reasons why it is extremely hard to fight sexual harassment. It is these enablers who play a major role in creating a culture where sexual harassment is normalised and where it is extremely easy for the perpetrator to continue his behaviour unchecked.

In Mumbai Monochrome, photography and haiku conjoin to explore the unfamiliar in the mundane
long reads

In Mumbai Monochrome, photography and haiku conjoin to explore the unfamiliar in the mundane

Through Mumbai Monochrome, a collection of photographs that capture the cityscape in all its moods, Kelkar places dead centre the people who have made this much talked about city an energetic, complex and multicultural metropolis simply by way of their quotidian lives and occupations.

How Goa crib-hopped in smaller numbers in 2020, but without losing its spirit and thrust on social dialogue
Lifestyle

How Goa crib-hopped in smaller numbers in 2020, but without losing its spirit and thrust on social dialogue

Across the state, people came together to create life-size Nativity scenes in cribs that were often themed on social issues. In the pandemic, the number of crib-hoppers may have reduced, but the sentiment remained unchanged.