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Barriers To Access & Inclusion
It is fairly safe to state that living with a disability, in my case, extremely low vision, can be a challenge. A common thread that I have experienced and has been expressed by others living with disability, is that barriers to access and inclusion are everywhere. Many of us face these barriers daily. It might be a side of a road with an unpaved sidewalk, a ramp that is not existent or in disrepair, construction zones, or any number of other barriers.
Sometimes the barrier we might face can come in the form of another human being not understanding the unique needs of someone with a disability. Quite recently I had an experience while trying to complete some regular, daily shopping errands. For people living with disability, we can encounter something that feels like an incursion on our right to fully participate in society.
Having access to places is of great importance to me since I cannot drive. I live where I do because it enables me to go where I need to go on a regular basis with relative ease. My dog’s vet, multiple grocery stores, clothing stores, the Phoenix Light Rail, restaurants, and more are all within a short 10 – 15-minute walk from my house. Anytime I go somewhere by myself I carry a small backpack with my white cane and other essential items that keep me safe (flashlight, mini-guide, phone charger, granola bar, hand-sanitizer). I still have some usable vision and do not use my white cane 100% of the time. It is a tool that I use when it’s dark or when I am in an unfamiliar area. I do not go anywhere by myself without my backpack.
A Pivotal Moment?
On a recent trip to a store that I frequent at least once a week, I was going to buy dog food, cat food, allergy medicine, and a few staple food items. As with every shopping trip, I wore my small backpack containing my white cane and other essentials. However, this time I was stopped by the door attendant and advised that due to my backpack, I could not enter the store. This came as a bit of a shock to me since I shop at this store at least once a week. For this article, I decided to review my purchases from 2022 for just this store. There were at least 36 shopping trips to this store location in 2022 for a combined amount spent of $1,200.
In the span of about one or two seconds, an array of thoughts came into my mind. I thought about having a conversation about why my bag is inseparable from me and educating the door attendant as to why. After all, I was not using my white cane, it was in my backpack. Maybe ask for the Manager. My emotions ranged from everything from outrage to indifference.
Something I have come to recognize over the years is that reacting in these situations will likely not produce the intended result. I acknowledge that I am a representative of the blind/low-vision community. My behavior affects how the world at large sees the blind/low-vision community – regardless of if I want it to or not.
So, I took a breath, said “Okay,” turned around, and walked away. I decided to call the corporate customer service line and filed a complaint advising what had happened. The incident is under review, and I am comfortable waiting on the resolution of the complaint with the corporate office.
These types of situations are not new and happen every day to people living with a disability. There is not space enough in this article to go over the number of times someone I know living with a disability has faced a barrier, micro-aggression, or blatant violation of their rights. Every situation is different, and each person living with a disability and how it affects them is different. When we are denied access in, or to, public spaces due to disability it causes harm.
Choosing Our Battles
These sometimes small and mundane things can build into something much greater over time if they are ignored. There is always a need to advocate and address the barriers that we face. Of course, there is no “right” or “wrong” way to say how every situation should be handled. What is important is to recognize that how we respond does matter. Is every barrier we face deserving of the energy and or time it takes to address it?
Returning to the incident at the store. There are many reasons the door attendant decided not to let me come in with my backpack that day. There could have been bias against certain types of people they view as “risky” for fear they might shoplift. Perhaps a policy on not allowing backpacks into the store is selectively enforced. There are a number of reasons why on this day, and not any of the other few dozen trips I’ve taken to this store that my backpack was an issue.
What would it have accomplished if I had chosen to make a scene at the front of the store? Why should I have to explain to a stranger anything about my disability? I could ask that a manager be called and opt to berate the door attendant and manager as I empty my bag, pulling my white cane from my bag, creating a spectacle for any other shoppers to see. A spectacle that could easily give the appearance that my disability is an excuse to wear a backpack. It certainly would not have been a good look for me.
It is important to recognize that blindness is a spectrum. I am low vision. Prior to my disability, I was naïve to how broad the spectrum of blindness is. How reasonable am I if I expect the public at large to understand the nuance of my own low vision? Prior to my vision loss, I sadly must admit that I wrongly assumed that people who use a white cane cannot see at all.
Knowing When To Act
There is a tendency to feel wronged when these types of things happen – things that feel like dismissal or violation against us personally. The truth is less malicious. People have many biases. We all have them. Including me. Is being denied the use and access to my mobility devices something worthy of being addressed. Absolutely. Was this incident at the store me being targeted as a person with a disability? Probably not.
What I hope people take from this encounter is that it might feel the world is stacked up against us as people living with blindness or low vision, or disability in general. Accessibility IS an issue. Equally important is that we are all just people. As Brene Brown often says, “People, People, People.” When something happens, consider what action you can take that can make a larger impact than reacting to that moment.
What can you do so that what happened to you doesn’t happen to someone else? There are times when making a scene is necessary, and immediate advocacy is needed. But not every time. Most of the time there is a better solution if we can check our emotional reaction and think objectively.
I was able to get my shopping done that day. After filing my complaint with the corporate office, I walked a few hundred steps to another store and walked right in with my backpack on. I bought the dog food, cat food, allergy medicine, and food items I was shopping for. Had a great conversation with the checker, who complimented my backpack. “Thank you.” I replied.
We have the power to pick and choose the battles we want to fight. As the great Jackie Joyner-Kersee said, “If I stop to kick every barking dog, I am not going to get where I’m going.” A great lesson to keep in mind when we face our own barriers.
By: Ken Meeker CPC
Prior Career Content by Ken Meeker
- Reflecting with Mindfulness
- The Multi-Tasking Myth
- Standing Out – How to Craft an Attention-Grabbing Cover Letter
- 3 Things to Consider When Crafting Your Resume
- Career Exploration – 5 Important Things to do When Considering Careers
About The Author
Ken Meeker is a Certified Professional Coach, owner of Vitality Career Coaching LLC, and member of the NCDA. He specializes in executive and career coaching with a special emphasis on differently-abled individuals who want to return to work. He is a DEI consultant, Public Speaker, and advocates for inclusivity of marginalized groups. Ken is a 2021-2022 AFB Blind Leadership Development Program Fellow and will serve as a Mentor for the 2022-2023 program. You can connect with him on LinkedIn.com/in/kenmeekeraz, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.vitalitycareercoaching.com
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