Let me start this post by saying I am not a person with a disability. I’m not saying this to make myself sound superior, better or normal (whatever that means?). I’m simply laying my cards on the table because this post will be about disability and there are those that will no doubt question my standing to write on this topic. I get that. To you, I say fair enough but if you want a truly equal and accessible world then it has to work both ways. You need to let me in too and together we can advocate with strength.
Having several friends who have a disability, I am passionate about the topics of disabled rights, accessibility and equality. So naturally, a newspaper article headed “Access all Areas” caught my eye a couple of weeks ago. The article focused on how a beachside suburb in Sydney was transforming itself into a tourism mecca for people with disabilities – heralded as a world’s first. The suburb is Collaroy and involves considerable redevelopment of the area including Colloroy Beach (pools, surf life saving club and playground), the construction of an accessible bed and breakfast and a residential facility for people with spinal cord injury (SCI). The commercial strip is also to be redeveloped with the intention that the precinct be a showcase of what inclusion is all about. It is the brainchild of Gary Blaschke, the founder of the Disabled Surfers Association. Warringah Council are also involved. At this point I say “where is the “like, like, like” button”?
The article points out that there is no point in creating a world-class SCI facility if its residents are effectively excluded from the community once they leave the front gate. I discovered that putting in ramps and removing other physical barriers is only part of the story. It was here that I received my introduction to the concept of “emotional accessibility”.
Never having heard the expression, I entered Google University and went in search of more information. At first I thought it had something to do with showing more emotion and making your feelings more known to others (which in a way I suppose it does). Google University proved a little disappointing - there was not much I could find. From my readings “emotional accessibility” seems to encompass the notions of being welcoming, receptive and making people with a disability feel valued. So this got me thinking about how much emotional accessibility do I create.
To me the expression connotes something more than just emotional intelligence. It’s about opening up your eyes and your heart and building bridges to negate the obvious differences. Barriers here, barriers there, barriers every where to break down and I’m not just talking about the physical ones. We all weep, feel emotions and bleed red blood.
My friends who are disabled are some of the most amazingly talented people I know. Whether they are writers, singers, business owners or professionals they each bring a unique piece of fabric to my friendship matrix. They are just good eggs.
Do I totally look past the wheelchair and the disability? No I don’t and I don’t believe my friends would want me to. It’s a part of who they are, but it does not define them. These things are not the first or even second thing I think of when I think of them. They have taught me much about relationships, life, attitudes, myself and last but not least, disability. I thank them for the education.
My dream is for a truly accessible and egalitarian society. I have mentored disabled students as a small first step towards this dream. I am hoping to bulldoze my way through a few more barriers in the future.
This my friends, is an emotionally accessible blog site.
Do you practice emotional accessibility?