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What is access?

In this video, various people with different relationships to disability discuss the meanings of access.

The presenters in the above video describe how disabled people are excluded across many different forms of access — from employment, to information technology, to communication. We see that there is a great diversity of barriers to access for different people with a range of impairments.

Why is this important? Rosemary stresses that barriers to access are a core element of discrimination which result in social exclusion. And as Zoe says, it can be very exhausting for disabled people when they have to struggle to get access to appropriate services, or cannot use physical or online spaces easily. Often the very people who would most benefit from ease of access are given the hardest time. When designers, planners, lawmakers, employers and others don’t take the needs of diverse bodies and minds into consideration, it is people with disabilities who have to spend precious energy on negotiating and navigating lack of access in everyday life.

The presenters point out that even where access seems to be provided, it is often done as a box-ticking exercise, rather than thinking about what a diverse range of people actually need. Automating captions on an online video or putting up a wheelchair sign may make it appear that access has been provided, when in fact this is not the case. Gwynnyth suggests one way to move forward — by ensuring that the person who experiences the most difficulty can participate in any particular situation.

Finally, the sheer diversity of disability and impairment tells us that access is a really diverse idea as well. In the above video you heard about examples of physical and information access for people with physical disabilities, communication access for people who struggle to communicate their needs, and attitudinal access for people with visible disabilities, but the list extends far beyond that as well. For example, for people with cognitive impairments, access to information and clear ideas is vital, whereas for people with mental health issues, access to safe spaces and relationships might be really important. We will continue to expand on these diverse understandings of access over the week, and we encourage you to share your own diverse ideas and experiences in the comments.

Later this week, we explore how starting from the diverse ways that people with different impairments access the world is an important way to think about access differently.

Talking points

  • What different types of access are there?
  • Why is access for people with disabilities important?
  • Have you experienced situations where access for people with disabilities appears to have been provided, but in fact does not work? Can you share examples?

In the next step, we look at the impact of barriers to access. What do life chances and other opportunities look like for disabled people, compared to non-disabled people?

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Disability and a Good Life: Working with Disability

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