When my temporary disability began a few months ago, I became more aware of the physical obstacles that prevent so much of our world from being accessible to everyone.
Now I am noticing a barrier that isn’t covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act: other people.
The way individual people behave can either be a help or a hindrance. When I’m out and about, a lot of people will open doors for me and make an effort to assist. And boy, do I notice the people who do the opposite—the ones who step on my heels or rush to get around me—and put me at risk of falling.
Recently I was in a parking lot, slowly crutching my way through a crosswalk. An oncoming driver looked at me and made the decision to drive across the crosswalk ahead of me. Then another group of people started crossing from the other side so she had to stop. Now her car was in the middle of the crosswalk, completely blocking my path.
I looked at her, assuming I’d see an apologetic shrug. She conspicuously avoided eye contact.
Another day, the only accessible stall in a public restroom was occupied by someone who didn’t appear to need to use the grab bars. I felt frustrated.
But I remembered, with a prick of shame, that I too have used the accessible restroom at the airport just to accommodate my carry-on bag. Now that I have a physical disability, I’m more keenly aware of the disparate impact that selfishness has on folks whose mobility is limited. Going forward, I will definitely try to scan those around me for potential accessibility needs before I give myself permission to put my needs first.
But that only tells me who is struggling with obstacles that others can see. This is where inclusive behavior broadens to encompass all forms of courtesy and kindness. The fact is, we never know what our colleagues, clients, or strangers we interact with are struggling with.
Maybe someone at the side of the road has a pain condition that makes standing difficult.
A meeting participant may be hard of hearing, and our refusal to use a microphone in a meeting puts them at a disadvantage.
They may have lupus, and an early morning call interferes with their energy management.
Or they may have to pick up their child from daycare unexpectedly, and that deadline may need to be adjusted.
Responding to issues like these is essential to equity. Anticipating them? That’s inclusion.
When I recover from my surgery, I’ll go back to having the privilege of being able-bodied—and people who don’t stop for me in the crosswalk will be merely rude.