We have a bit of a habit in this society of conflating the word ‘accessibility’ with wheelchair access. It is quite easy to see how this has happened. Many years ago, neurodiversity and non-physical disability were less understood (although we still have a very long way to go). We thought about an accessible building as having a ramp for a wheelchair user, perhaps a lift, that was about it.
Vitally important things, but we didn’t consider about accessible activities; things like autism-friendly cinema screenings, sensory rooms in hospitals, or queue jump passes for rides at theme parks. These are the small changes, the reasonable adjustments that can make or break a day for many families of disabled children.
The knowledge however simply isn’t there.
We still endure double takes when we jump a queue at a theme park, we still have stares when a meltdown occurs in a supermarket and our eight year old (who I can no longer lift) is lying across the floor. I will never forget the moment that someone once stepped right over her when she did that, a gesture so lacking in compassion.
As most of us will have discovered in the childhood disability community, having a ‘hidden’ disability can bring its own set of challenges. Our little girl wears an epilepsy helmet nearly all of the time. It protects her from physical injury, but a by-product is that it protects us from judgement or sidelong glances if we use a disabled parking space. It’s an obvious physical signifier that she is disabled.
Accessibility to the world, to life, is not just about reasonable adjustments from companies or organisations, where we are protected by the law. These adjustments need to come from the public, too. Often they do and we are offered help, or a supportive smile. The times we are overlooked or stared at however; they sting and sting.
Often we need people to make a little adjustment to their day to help us get through ours. Sometimes that adjustment is as small as letting us skip ahead in the queue if you can see my child is not coping. We need to empower everyone with the awareness and education to help. I hope we can together raise a generation of children for whom this becomes second nature.