Why terms like ‘fully accessible’ don't help disabled people
Updated: Jun 19
Visiting a new place can be anxiety-inducing for even the most confident disabled person. A holiday, a weekend trip, a day out – even popping to the local shops. Why would you be worried about nipping out for a loaf of bread, I hear you ask? Because, dear reader, the language and terminology used to tell us if we can even get through the door is so confusing.
‘Fully Accessible’ – what does that even mean? Fully accessible to who? Just because two people have the same medical condition, or use the same type of mobility aid, doesn’t mean that their access needs are the same. If I told you that all people with brown hair can ride a unicycle, or that not one person in the world with size 6 feet is left-handed, you’d tell me that was ridiculous and impossible. Disabled people are just as individual as everyone else on the planet, and so are our wants and needs.
Allow me to demonstrate with a very unscientific, rather wonky example.
My lovely friend Chloe and I both have the same medical condition – Cerebral Palsy. We have so many things in common that I often joke we are the same person. We both love writing and blogging, using our experience to empower other disabled people. We have a tendency to be workaholics, almost never taking sick days. We love a cheeky cocktail. We were both born prematurely. We take the same medication. We even have the same birthday.
But, when it comes to how our conditions affect us, we couldn’t be more different. I use a wheelchair, sometimes manual, sometimes with a power pack. Chloe is partially sighted, wears AFO splints and walks with a stick.
I need ramps, wide doorways and accessible toilets. Chloe needs large print text, audible announcements and sometimes a seat to rest.
I mean, don’t even get me started on this one. ‘Wheelchair Friendly’, so what, you just really like wheelchairs? Maybe you’re giving out free hugs to every wheelchair user who crosses your threshold? (Please don’t, PDAs with strangers is not the life for me).
Even two people who use wheelchairs may not be able to access a venue in the same way.
I am able to stand, transfer, knee-walk, even bum-shuffle if the situation is desperate enough. That means I don’t often use my wheelchair in a hotel room, I can get into a bathtub with some help. A wheelchair user who can’t do those things might need to use a hoist.
I live in a house with stairs (hence the bum-shuffling). A full-time wheelchair user might need use of stairlifts, or a property all on one level.
My wheelchair is compact and lightweight. I can be lifted up steps, squeeze into tight places, and get into a regular car.
Read more: how I crowdfunded for my ideal wheelchair
Someone with a large, heavy powerchair might need step-free access, more space, and a wheelchair accessible vehicle.
‘Welcoming to All’
Here’s the thing, I passionately want every venue in all of the land to be as inclusive as possible. But how can a place be ‘Welcoming to All’ without telling All, exactly what they’ve put in place to welcome them? Are there quiet spaces for people who have autism or anyone who struggles with too much stimulus? Staff trained in assisting people with Dementia? Facilities for assistance dogs, hearing loops, visual smoke alarms, Stoma friendly toilets?
I can’t possibly list every single accessibility need for every disabled person – and that’s the whole point – it’s impossible to be ‘fully accessible’ to everyone, without considering, and communicating, what facilities are in place for absolutely every eventuality.
If you’re a disabled person reading this you might be thinking that you’ll just never leave the house again. If you own a business and you’re trying your best to be accessible, you might be thinking there’s no point.
But there are solutions that can really change the game.
AccessAble’s website and App have detailed, accurate, factual information to around 70,000 venues across the UK. Thousands of pieces of information for each venue, all thoroughly checked in person.
(Full disclosure – I work for AccessAble, but am under no obligation to mention them in this post)
Euan’s Guide is a disabled access review website, where disabled people can share their own personal experiences of accessing venues.
Businesses can also create their own self-assessed accessibility guides, giving an overview of what the can offer disabled people, linked to from their own websites.
And of course, there are blogs like mine, and many others, from disabled people who are passionate about sharing their experiences to help and encourage others to travel and live life to the full.
I’m often asked what the one thing is that I think could change the world for disabled people, and my answer is always the same – information.
Give us the information we need to decide if a place is suitable for us. Not sweeping statements like ‘fully accessible’, not window stickers with wheelchair symbols on them, not web pages which say ‘call to confirm your needs’, but detailed, honest accessibility information. Because information is power, for everyone, but especially for disabled people.
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