Disability and accessibility: Making space for those fighting back

I read a very short, but very worrying, article this afternoon about an incident involving Disabled People against the Cuts being told no disabled ramp would be provided for a speaker at a national event. I have no idea if the allegation is true or untrue, but it provides a good segue for a discussion about the left wing meetings and their accessibility for disabled people.

 

hardest hit

I have been to a lot of demonstrations, protests, meetings and events put on by various groups from the left over the years, and the sad facts are that not only are they overwhelmingly inaccessible to people with disabilities, they are also often almost hostile to such people. For example, the number of times I have heard, upon pointing out that a building is inaccessible, that “there’s only one step into the building/room” is absurd. When it is made clear that “only one step” can render an event totally inaccessible to a wheelchair user (and especially a mobility scooter user, as scooters are far more difficult to ram up a step even with outside help), I have been made to feel like I am rocking the boat for no reason. Furthermore, I have been to events where the entire event takes place up one or more flights of stairs.

Even a non-wheelchair-using physically disabled person can find a flight of stairs an impossibility, leaving them feeling excluded and like they have not been considered or thought about in the decision-making process that determined where the event would take place. As a disabled person who is a part-time mobility scooter user, who normally walks with a rollator and can occasionally get about unaided or with a simple walking-stick, who would also like to be involved with political and social events with other likeminded people from the left, I often feel like my needs are not just being ignored, but that there is a possibility that they are indeed being thought of and simply dismissed. This is extremely hurtful and frustrating, and considering that disabled people are one of the groups most at risk of discrimination, marginalisation and oppression, it simply doesn’t make sense. If the left is working to help society’s most vulnerable, why is it excluding those same people from participating in its events?

As a man I would not work with a group or go to its social events if it excluded women. As a white person I would feel the same about a group that excluded people of colour. The really angering thought is that currently-abled people are continuing to work with groups and attend leftist social events that exclude disabled people. If you deliberately or indirectly exclude disabled people, you are missing out on the voices of some of the very people you purport to work to help, and you are guilty of discrimination. Talk the talk of disability rights all you want, but until we start feeling included, we’re going to assume you can’t be bothered to walk the walk.

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