Accessibility has nothing to do with you?

Written 2015 edited 2024

Comment on disabilities and access.

Accessibility has nothing to do with you?

Nobody asks to be disabled but accessibility is harder than you think.

I myself was tested in 1977 as having ‘special learning difficulties’ quite what this means is hard to say. However the person who tested me told my mum that this was dyslexia. Unfortunately there was no certificate in those days when they refused, or were unable to, diagnose dyslexia.

After school I decided to go into work as education had not worked for me and I was unable to face the challenges of university due to a deep felt inadequacy derived from dyslexia. By going into work I thought I could hide from it. However after many years one realises one was on the wrong track and it is rather dispiriting to have wasted many years.

Of course I did not ask to be dyslexic. No disabled person chose this route in life. Molly Barrett of Show me the Access is a long term muscular dystrophy sufferer. “Until I was twelve there was no evidence of it,” she says.

Until one is in disabled shoes one had no idea how frustrating it is. In my case I arrive at 44 and I am still technically undiagnosed dyslexic, dyspraxic, discalular and possibly ADHD. However doctors refuse to help, sighting my age as a problem. One said: “If you were young then: no problem.”

Most able bodied people feel it will never happen to them. In 1998 I had a severe car crash where I walked away only with a severe head injury. Since then I am so surprised to be able bodied and indeed… alive. That crash came out of the blue, one minute it was normal, the next in a hospital bed.

Molly and I attended an event in Norwich called Sync the City. This is for coders to build a web app or website in three days and launch a business. At the end there is a dragons den style plea for money.

As Show me the Access which Molly describes as: “The idea is to show the accessibly of places and products through video”, Molly and I pitched for other coders to help us. Well the coders all joined exciting groups including robotics and drones. Our group consisted of a writer and three designers. Coders are not interested in disabilities and accessibility.

We had a lot of trouble navigating the venue which was deemed accessible. Molly was unable to move about without help unless she hooked the doors open with her sticks from her scooter.

Then the coup de grace: the stage was not accessible. We took video of her struggles: the project was about lack of accessibility. When it came to the pitches to the dragons a girl who’s idea was help for carers caught the hearts and minds award as she was braking down in tears about her patients.

Molly in her scooter was unable to access the stage, so our able bodied writer went up. He was clearly very nervous and delivered the pitch in a loud harsh manner. At the end a dragon said: “Why are you so angry about this?” The implication was clearly why should an able bodied man be complaining about wheelchair access.

Before the result there was the hearts and minds vote. We all were to take a little tiddly wink with us and put it in the pot of the one we voted for. After fifty six hours Molly was losing it by now and with her sticks tried to gain the stage where all the pitchers were lined up waiting for her tiddly wink. I was worried as hell that she would fall over. “The main danger is falling over, which I did badly last year. When you fall there is no way to stop yourself and my head took the bang,” she told me previously.

At the foot of the inaccessible stage I pleaded with her: “Don’t do it, if you fall I shall blame myself, I know what you re trying to prove but no one is watching, no one here has a clue,” I said, tears running down my cheeks.

Of course the robot kids or drone coders won, and the teary girl won hearts and minds. No one had a clue what was going on for Show me the Access. Or even saw the struggling disabled woman and the teary dyslexic. It is so hard not to get angry about these issues.

After the event Molly spoke to the organiser about the lack of accessibility. He said: “Well no one here is disabled.”

To which Molly replied: “Exactly.”

2024 note: I realise I should have stormed up onto the stage and told them all what the problem was, but I didn’t. I wasn’t in a good place in 2014 and I didn’t have the brain power. It’s easy to be wise in retrospect and write retrospective articles. They treated Molly so badly but they had no idea they had done so.