2023 Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD): A Conversation on Accessibility & Stereotypes
The Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) is observed across the globe in May 2023. With the sole aim of educating and creating awareness around accessibility GAAD was first implemented in the year May 2012. At Pedesting, we believe that accessibility is a human right and work towards making it a reality for everyone in need.
This GAAD we collaborated with Zachary weeks, a fervent accessibility consultant to have an insightful conversation on “Stereotypes against accessibility” with Nabeel Ramji, the co-founder of Pedesting. This blog outlines the interview with key insights and real-life stories as shared by the speakers. Please see the full conversation here:
What Does Accessibility Look Like?
While in many of our mind accessibility is pictured as ramps and power buttons, Zachary shares that it is the freedom to not plan every move. It is the access to unlimited possibilities with full inclusion.
“It is very hard to be spontaneous for people with disabilities. Accessibility is the access to do anything at any given time”. -Nabeel
It is also important to remember how accessibility differs for people with different disabilities. For a community to be successful in implementing accessibility, the initial step is to understand the importance of accessibility and the crucial role it plays in the lives of people with lived experiences.
Stereotypes and Stigmas People with Disabilities Face in Public
One of the major reasons for this conversation is to bring out the other side of the story. The narrative and experiences from the other side of the story are very real and alarming. It inculcates a sense of urgency to look at the stigmas that people with disabilities have been facing. Zachary observes that the scene has evolved in a lot of ways for the better, but it has not changed much.
“Able bodied people look at people with disabilities like it is a bad thing. Internalized bias based on portrayal of disability in the immediate community has let me hold back myself in different areas.”- Zachary Weeks
People with disabilities are always looked down upon and are not treated the way they must be treated equally. It has also been a common notion that people with disabilities have issues with their mental ability while for many it is only physical. Stereotypes like these break away confidence and rob opportunities off people with disabilities.
A Customer Service Story
It has been common for people in customer service, shops, and hospitality venues to assume that people with disabilities are not good at answering for themselves. This is a very strong bias and can be very disrespectful to a person with a disability.
Zachary remembers the time when he went to a shop with an able-bodied person. At the counter, the customer representative askes Zachary’s questions to his friend instead of asking him directly. It puts one in a spot of confinement and crushes your sense of existence.
Also, one must remember again that every disability is different. So, it is always good to ask any questions or doubts directly rather than assuming.
Stereotypes In Educational Institutions and Organizations:
The bias towards people with disabilities starts as early as they start school. It is usually considered that any kid with a disability may not be the smartest student. This bias continues as they grow up and all the way to work.
“When I was a kid in school, I used to perform well and get good grades, but people always assume that the teacher’s assistant would be helping me with the answers, and it is not I that wrote them”- Zachary Weeks
Organizations and companies must understand that we have experiences and perspectives to bring. As a professional, employers must look beyond the underlying judgements and see how people with disabilities can add value to any organization.
Impact Of Stereotypes on People with Disabilities
Zachary and Nabeel emphasis that the impact of stereotypes on people with disabilities can be very taxing. They recall it as a very exhausting experience.
The emotional toll is very heavy when one must deal with barriers and stereotypes at all places like educational institutions, work and in public. It is a battle!
As I get older it gets very taxing both mentally and physically. There are a lot of questions that go through my mind like, why do they keep staring at me? Over time I stopped bothering about it as I realized that the mental drain is not worth it shares Zachary.
Adapting The Right Mindset and Incorporating Inclusive Language
The right mindset is the key to inclusiveness in any sector. Brushing away the age-old conceptions around people with disabilities is a good start. Treat people with disabilities without any bias. “Act like you would with an able-bodied person” Zachary shares.
Despite the sector, with respect to any space like disability or LGBTQ always have a mindset of grace and kindness with love. Moving away from the negative connotation towards an inclusive positive one.
Use language that evokes empathy rather than sympathy. When it comes to inclusive language, there are usually two types of languages spoken i.e., The medical model and the social model. For example, try avoiding phrases like wheelchair users or visually impaired.
Community For Accessibility
Both the disability community and the broader community play a huge role in making accessibility a reality. As we conclude, here are some of the ways Zachary and Nabeel suggests as on how people can come together to work for accessibility.
· Embrace the concept of nothing about us is without us.
· Build awareness and teach with empathy and kindness.
· Lift each other up, love each other back.
· Be mindful of all disabilities. There is no hierarchy in disability.
· Collaborate and work together. Remember, stronger together.
· Do not misuse the spots reserved for people with disabilities.
· Be an ally, work as alliances to carry forward the message.
· Provide mentorship for the next generation to adapt a positive mindset and facilitate growth through accessibility.
There are over 1 billion people with disabilities in the world. If all of us come together and voice out, we can support the cause stronger and bring change!