Accessibility is a huge word. The meaning and impact vary widely from person-to-person and community-to-community. This month, we will be sharing resources, tips, and lived experiences that centre around making our communities more accessible and inclusive for everyone in it. Accessibility goes so much further than mobility, it can also mean being sensory-friendly, barrier-free, and proactive in making accommodations.
What’s accessible for one person may not be accessible for another. For example, a school may have ramps and wheelchair lifts, which makes the school accessible for individuals with physical challenges; however, if it lacks Education Assistants and one-on-one-support in the classroom, that makes the school equally inaccessible for students with developmental and learning challenges. As a person on the autism spectrum and an advocate, who’s grown up around many people with various diverse abilities, I’ve learned that accessibility for everyone can’t be achieved by a “one size fits all” approach!
Now, I will share some first-hand experiences to demonstrate the removal of barriers to promote inclusivity and accessibility in our schools, communities, and workplaces.
When I started elementary school in 1997, there were no supports for students with diverse abilities. As the last of BC’s institutions, Woodlands, had closed that year, inclusive education and supports in schools weren’t on anyone’s radar. I was newly diagnosed with autism at that time, and like many other students with diverse abilities, I spent my first few years of school being “passed-along” to the next grade at the end of the year. Teachers often noted on my report cards with things like “hopefully he improves next year.” Teachers didn’t have access to degrees in special education, students were not entitled to one-on-one support from an Educational Assistant, and Individual Education Plans (IEP’s) were non-existent. Many parents, including mine,had to fight with school administrations, districts, and the provincial government, to advocate for their children to have a future with access to education. It took a number of years before students with a special needs designation were entitled to one-on-one support from an E.A., and even longer before IEP’s and adapted curriculums were the norm.
To make your community more accessible, you have to work together with the entire community. I had the pleasure of being on the City of Burnaby Access Advisory Committee for six years. This body advises the City’s Planning & Building, Parks, Recreation & Cultural Services as well as Engineering Departments on accessible barriers within the community and how to remove those barriers. We would also work with the Mayor & City Council each year on the awarding of accessibility upgradegrants to make Burnaby more accessible for all.For example, on the Access Advisory Committee, there were some members who were wheelchair users. A few of them brought up that when they would take a Bonnie’s Taxi to Burnaby City Hall for our meetings, many of the drivers didn’t know how to properly and safely secure the straps to their wheelchairs before taking off. So we decided to reach out to Bonnie’s Taxi and the Burnaby Association for Community Inclusion to collaborate on creating a training video for new drivers, as well as for drivers who didn’t have experience in picking up passengers who were wheelchair users. This training video is still used by Bonnie’s Taxi today.
As a person on the spectrum, having a job gives me a strong feeling of self-worth, day-to-day stability, and a great feeling knowing that I’m earning my own money, as well as contributing to the economy. Accessibility in the workplace is extremely important to me! It’s really important for employers who make the right decision to hire inclusively, to take the time to look at every individual’s abilities (what strengths, positives they bring to the workplace) and not just focus on their disabilities (what they can’t or struggle to do.) It’s one thing to have to prove to your employer that you’re hardworking, capable, and reliable, but nobody should have to prove that their “worthy” of having a jobbecause they live with a diverse ability!
Building Accessibility Awareness
It’s so important that all of us in our society, as citizens, individuals with diverse abilities, advocates, politicians,employers, educators, students, public servants, and others, take the time to be aware of, as well as to raise awareness about the need toimprove accessibility in our communities. As the old expression goes “It takes a village.” We all have a responsibility to make our world more equal, as well as one where nobody gets left behind!