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“Accessibility often feels like an afterthought”

Text: I am extraordinary as you are. Image: Participant of Blossom Ireland with logo in background and bottom-right corner.

In honour of last week’s Global Accessibility Awareness Day, we’re sharing the story of a disabled person, discussing their thoughts on what accessibility means in day-to-day life.

The below story was kindly provided to us by Pieta Bouma, a paraplegic woman from New Zealand. Pieta became disabled at the age of 19 due to an accident while abroad in which she broke her back. Pieta has been sharing her story and discussing her journey and her experience in living within a world not designed for her.

Image of two disabled parking spaces
Layout of an 'Easy to Read' document
Image of a hand reading a page of Braille text

Pieta Bouma: Accessibility

To you, accessibility may just be a box to check, or a buzzword added to a list of adjectives to describe something progressive. To me, accessibility is the difference between whether I can go out with friends, whether I can use the toilet, and how long it takes me to achieve basic tasks.

To me, accessibility is not only tangible, but it’s personal. To be eating at a restaurant only to find the single accessible toilet is being used as a storage room makes me feel like I’m invisible. Friends are often shocked when I tell them about things like this; like not being able to get into my university lecture, not being able to reach the self-serve petrol payment console, all the mobility parks being full of cars that don’t have disabled parking permits (so I have to circle the block.) I am rarely surprised anymore. Accessibility often feels like an afterthought.

Accessibility is for everyone

It’s about more than mobility parks and accessible toilets, it’s also subtitles online, picture descriptions, sign language interpreters at events, braille at public locations, low sensory environments and so much more. And improving accessibility isn’t just for the disabled community – we all have access needs, whether it’s to do with cost, childcare, transport, language, education, or a whole host of other things!

Image of train doors with a ramp leading into the train
Image of a woman in a wheelchair with examples of accommodations around her

So what can we do?

Start by asking people for their access needs – and ask your non-disabled friends too! Think outside the box when organising an event or a place people might need to access; would this work for someone in a wheelchair, a person with dependent kids, a blind person with a service dog, someone with a low budget, an autistic person with low tolerance to a high-sensory environment? If not, how can you improve access? Disabled and non-disabled people alike will notice that you have thought about them and you want them to be able to come.

Living in a world that is not designed for you can be exhausting, so if you can take away some of the burden – by considering access needs – you’re making the world a more equitable place. I have no doubt that the world will be better when we can ALL sit around the boardroom table, use the toilet at our favourite restaurant, and be able to attend that Harry Styles concert.

An enormous thank you to Pieta for sharing her experience. To learn more about her journey, have a watch of this short video showcasing her day-to-day and how she’s adjusted to life with a disability. For more resources on making your home/office/event/hang-out more accessible, check out our previous blog post.