The most important mantra from the disability community is nothing about us without us. Yet, our civil rights have largely been established by people without disabilities, who have forced their lack of respect for us and their inability to see us as their equals (whether they realize it or not) as the primary motivations for the few rights we kind of have.
Our civil rights protections, as limited as they are, begin with the premise that we don’t deserve equality and equity of opportunity if society feels providing us equality and equity is too burdensome. For those who don’t know, an undue burden (the existence of which is almost never determined by people with disabilities) is in many instances a legal justification for failing to provide us equality and equity. If entities violate our civil rights, we aren’t even entitled to damages if we sue and win.
I say all of that as a lead to this: The law has encouraged people without disabilities to view our requests for equality and equity as accommodations related to our disability. The dynamic established by people without disabilities is they are accommodating us. Some people even feel good about doing the right thing when they do accommodate us. They take pride in having processes to accommodate us.
But the dirty truth is that accommodations, in a just society, would not be seen as relating to a person’s perceived disability, they would be acknowledged as necessary to overcome the obvious and sometimes deliberate discrimination.
If your website is inaccessible, you aren’t accommodating me. In truth, you are accommodating the reality that you are violating the law and discriminating against me.
If your building’s inaccessibility prevents a wheelchair user from accessing your business and you need to serve a wheelchair user outside, you are not accommodating the wheelchair user. They wouldn’t need an accommodation had someone not discriminated against them.
The prevalence of discrimination 32 years after passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act proves what would have ben honest to anyone truly interested in providing people with disabilities equality, equity of opportunity, and who desired to protect the integrity of people with disabilities–society cannot claim to be interested in civil rights while putting the burden on the oppressed to establish their oppression before society will do much to help. Civil rights cannot be protected by anyone who believes, even though they know their website, document, or building is inaccessible, that they are accommodating the person with a disability.
If you are really interested in creating a society that is accessible to and inclusive of people with disabilities, you must understand you are not accommodating people with disabilities. You are accommodating the sad truth that you and/or your organization are continuing to discriminate against and oppress people with disabilities.
This doesn’t mean that everything can be magically accessible to everyone. But it requires a mindset that acknowledges the accommodation is being offered because the organization and society has failed to be inclusive, not that people with disabilities need accommodations. In a just society, everything would be designed to be as readily inclusive as possible from the outset. In a society, like this one, the burden is always placed on the person being oppressed to advocate. The stereotypes and ableism of most people without disabilities leads them to feel like by accommodating us they are doing better and considering us. But a truly considerate person knows accommodating us for a system that has failed us is an accommodation of the system’s failure and the personal failings of those who have not created accessible, equitable experiences.