“I Don’t Care About You”: Thoughts on Accessibility and Disability Sensitivity

When I see buildings with a low degree of accessibility…outdoor wheelchair ramps covered with accumulated ice and snow…buildings with power doors or elevators that aren’t functioning…stores that use aisles as display space for merchandise, making the store difficult to navigate…I wonder if the people in charge of the building really realize what kind of message I, as a disabled person, come away with.

Accessibility…I Wonder…

I wonder the people in charge of these buildings with low degrees of accessibility realize that they might as well put up a sign that says (even if they don’t really believe it), “Disabled people, we don’t care enough about you as a potential customer/employee/volunteer to ensure that you can get into our building/get around it easily. Please take your money/abilities and expertise/time and community spirit elsewhere.”

I wonder if they realize how frustrating and depressing this gets after a while, especially after saying to a store or organization several times, “You know, if you can’t keep ice off of your ramp, you might as well rope it off, because it’s useless to people in wheelchairs and it’s just encouraging other physically disabled people to use it when it’s not safe.”

I wonder if they realize that inaccessibility sometimes makes me feel invisible in my own town, like people would just rather that I stayed at home and not bothered anyone with my needs. And I can handle low accessibility pretty well now. Plenty of people have much more trouble getting around than I do.

Accessibility is Good for Everyone

I wish that people would realize that universal design, accessibility and good disability¬†sensitivity¬†practices in businesses and organizations benefits everybody. If somebody in a wheelchair can get into a store and easily get around, so can a parent whose child is in a stroller, or a customer who has broken a leg and is using crutches. If the cashier asks at the cash register, “Did you find everything that you were looking for today?”, a customer with visual disabilities who has trouble reading signs can ask where a product is, or a customer in a wheelchair can ask for assistance getting a product down from a high shelf. Or someone with no disabilities at all who just can’t find what they’re looking for can also get the help that they need. Everybody wins.



  • What really gets me is the transportation companies and the snow removal/winter maintenance people… With them it isn’t even that they don’t value my business, it’s the attitude that people with physical disabilities don’t have anywhere to get to anyways. I work, and I’m having a terrible time getting there uninjured this winter.

    I’ve been periodically listing my accessibility worsts on twitter over the winter. The 4 biggest ones:

    1) OC Transpo (the transit company). Their buses aren’t accessible when it’s “too cold” because the mechanism that lowers and raises the bus might break. It’s ridiculous. What kind of company in the 2nd coldest capital city in the world buys something that doesn’t work when it’s cold?!

    2) The Rideau Centre (local shopping mall). Their only door on the bottom level with an automatic door is around the side, where they’re tearing down a building and have the only sidewalk with curb cuts blocked off, and the winter maintenance by that door is often left until last or not done at all. Sheet ice, not fun, but the other option is a set of doors with no automatic door buttons and people who are more likely to push you out of the way and pull the door shut behind them than hold the door. The best part is, when I mentioned this problem to the customer service staff, she told me, and I quote “We have handicap doors at all of our entrances”.

    3) The medical building (!) where I have physiotherapy. They only do winter maintenance twice a day (morning and night), and they don’t clear or salt the sidewalks in the parking lot, which is the only after-hours entrance.

    4) The City of Ottawa. Often the sidewalks are plowed before the streets (if they get plowed or shoveled at all) so the curb cuts become huge snowbanks that I certainly can’t climb over and a lot of the snow gets plowed into the bus stops too, so the bus can’t get close to the curb, and there’s a huge snowbank to climb through. That isn’t even the worst. I play wheelchair basketball at an elementary school. The closest bus stop could double as a skating rink, complete with snowbanks surrounding it to keep the water in, and once I’ve climbed the bank to get to the sidewalk, it’s covered in ice too, as is the parking lot and all of the sidewalks. I don’t know how anyone could consider that safe for kids.

    Sorry about the rant. Winter access is pissing me off a lot lately and combined with trying to get the bus drivers to wait until I can get to a seat so I don’t fall, and the verbal abuse I get from other passengers when I do fall, or when I ask for the driver to wait (“I used a cane once and I could stand on the bus” “My 80 year old mother in law can manage to stand” “You’re too young” “I used crutches when I broke my leg and I think you’re being unreasonable” “why don’t you just use the paratranspo?”), it’s getting to be a bit much.