A first-hand perspective on accessibility
If you are currently physically able-bodied, how often do you notice barriers to accessibility?
That’s the thing about privilege: if you don’t experience an obstacle, it’s easy to assume it doesn’t exist.
As a DEI consultant, I like to think I am always paying attention. Well, I am currently in a leg brace and on crutches due to an accident. And this lived experience is definitely heightening my attention. Is there an expression about walking in somebody else’s crutches?
Fortunately for me, my situation should be temporary. In the meantime, I am keenly aware of the privilege of being able-bodied in our society.
I was challenged from the first day I was crutches. The doctor’s office was pretty easy—the main doors have buttons to open them, and clinicians hold doors open for patients inside.
This is not the set-up everywhere. Actions I wouldn’t think twice about were suddenly convoluted puzzles. I went to a meeting in an office building, and when I needed to use the bathroom, I had to go through two doors, neither of which was automated—meaning I had to either put weight on my leg or get help.
Then, when I was leaving, I stood alone in one of those large elevator lobbies and pressed the call button in the middle of the elevator bank. The one on the far right opened, but by the time I got to it, the door had closed. I crutched back over to the button, pressed it again, and hustled as fast as I could. I had to use one crutch to stop the door from closing again. Once inside, I shook my head and laughed.
Now, when I think about going anywhere, I try to remember how accessible the place is, to see if it is worth trying to go there. Will it take me too long to get inside? Are the elevators easy to access? Will I be able to go to the bathroom without assistance? Truth be told, I haven’t been out much since.
Most buildings were built with the able-bodied in mind, so any retrofitting we do now might be out of the way or awkward. That’s the fundamental fact behind DEI efforts: many of our organizational systems were structured for those in the majority. All others had to adapt or make do.
We have come a long way with accessibility, and we still have a long way to go.