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The work of access

In this video, different people with disabilities share their experiences of access.
JORDANNA: Access, to me, means I have no barriers and I have access to everything. I remember when I was a young girl - I would’ve been about, I’d say, eight or nine years old - and I was asleep. Mom came in and woke me up, and she said, “I’ve got a surprise for you.” And I was, like, “Ah!” I got out of bed and I went downstairs and Mom put on the TV. And I was horrified at first because I was like, “Whoa! It’s got captioning!” And it was really clear. I mean, that was the first time in my life where I saw a television program with captions and I could see what was going on. I was so excited.
And then, after that, I became addicted to the TV. I could watch it the whole day because of the captioning.
ANTONI: We are different because of impairment, but we are able. We can do all things that other people do. Let’s say, for example, people like me can drive a car. It is by having our car modified. So this is what we really believe, you know? That’s why we never call ourselves having a disability, but we have impairment. As long as whatever we do has something that can make us able to do it, or we call it access, our impairments no longer affect us.
VIVIENNE: My speech impediment makes present-day speech recognition programs for computers useless to me. With computer programmers sensitive to the needs of adults who have profound physical limitations, computer programs could be developed to enable ease of communication.
ANTONI: Accessibility does not always refer to accessible infrastructure. I mean, the physical form of accessibility - not only that. Like, it also means opportunities - that would be the most important meaning of access to us - opportunities to contribute to the society, opportunities to gain education, opportunities to have employment, to be seen as…as a good citizen, to be seen as a valuable member of the society.
DUNCAN: Uh, yeah, access isn’t necessarily just about the laws. But it’s also about the attitudes not just of the people implementing those laws but of society in general. At university, the lecturer and the other teaching staff all approached getting me in there in a very open-minded way, helped me be able to access the actual…the actual course, but also figuring out ways to adapt things in terms of the technologies that already exist. So, you know, just simple things like a jig, which is something that often is used in repetitive work. Sometimes it would just help me actually be able to do the actual job. The teaching staff saw the vision impairment as a challenge as opposed to a barrier. (UPLIFTING MUSIC)

Last week we looked at discrimination and the ways in which moral and legal frameworks based on human rights can help prevent different forms of discrimination and enable a good life.

Several times during Weeks 1 and 2, our presenters have mentioned “access” as being fundamental to living a good life. This week, we explore what is meant by access and why it is so important for people with disabilities. We introduce different forms of access, explore how lack of access is a cause of discrimination, and examine why so many barriers to access still exist and ways in which inequalities in access are being challenged.

This week we also challenge common ideas about access and what is “normal”. Access is often treated as a straightforward problem of accommodating bodily or mental difference. The assumption is that having an impairment is what creates limitations in access. Instead, we suggest that the problem of access is more structural than that — that it begins with able-bodied society’s assumptions about what is normal. When our everyday practices and routines start from the needs of non-disabled bodies, disability access is viewed as something that must be added on to the “normal” ways of doing things.

The term “access” is a slippery one. In relation to disability we often use it to mean getting to a place — such as gaining access to a building — but of course we also access people, information and services. We may have different levels of access to education or employment. So first, we want to open up the variety of types of access, by listening to the diverse experiences of people with disabilities.

In the video above, some of our guest presenters talk about what access means to them. As you watch, reflect on the different examples they describe from their own lives. Why is it important for them to be able to achieve what they want in life, without barriers? How do they define access?

We provide a link to an audio description version of this video in the See Also section below.

portraits of the five guest speakers, laughing and smiling

Talking points

  • Can you think of examples when you or others in your life have had access restricted?
  • What would have enabled greater access in the example from your own life?
  • How important do you think societal attitudes are to lack of access for people with disabilities?

In the next step we introduce different types of access.

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Disability and a Good Life: Working with Disability

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