Disability Tunnel Vision

I’ve discovered a new condition I call disability tunnel vision.  It can happen when a person, business or organization tries to make facilities and programs more accessible and inclusive.

I’ve found that when most people start thinking about accessibility they think about what a person who uses a wheelchair might need, and then build a ramp to the door.  That’s it.  That’s where they stop.  They fail to take into consideration the needs of people who are blind, deaf, have cognitive disabilities or any other disability.

It can happen when a person a business or an organization tries to provide an accommodation to a person with a disability.  I might request CART (Communication Access Realtime Translation, a form of subtitling in realtime) but the people in charge of providing accommodations only understand that I have trouble hearing and they provide a sign language interpreter.  To them anyone who has trouble hearing must be Deaf and a sign language user.  An interpreter won’t help me because my primary language is English, not American Sign Language.

Even Gallaudet University created problems for some of its students and faculty when they built the Deaf-friendly Sorenson Communications building.  The lobby atrium is made of hard surfaces and soars several stories.  For Deaf students and faculty this design optimizes their ability to see one another and communicate by ASL.  For people who are hard of hearing (yes, Gallaudet is supposed to serve people who are hard of hearing, too) noise in that atrium is amplified and echoes so terribly it is painful and disorienting.

I’ll be the first to admit it is hard to think broadly enough that the accommodations you provide and the accessibility you create work for people with a wide range of disabilities.  One of the best things you can do is really listen to people who have disabilities when they tell you what they need.  Another thing that might help is hiring a good consultant who can help you develop a comprehensive accessibility and inclusion plan.

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