This post has been a long time in coming, because I believe it relates to many aspects of life – employment, education, transportation, access to public facilities, and so on. Many of us, including me, have had to fight to get the services, access, or technology that we need to be productive classmates, employees, or members of society. This blog post has been inspired by a recent event in my own life, and I am going to be purposefully vague about it; for those who know the whole situation, please keep it to yourselves.
Advocacy is essential to people with disabilities being productive members of society. We may travel differently, use different skills, have cool gadgets that talk or vibrate, but beneath all that, we would like to not only be included but to feel included in academia, athletics, the workplace… even reality TV. Sometimes we request accommodation that would be required for such inclusion, and it’s provided with little or no fuss. Sometimes we have to fight harder for such accommodations, because to be without them would mean that we cannot be those included, productive people that we know that we are.
And other times, when the accommodation is more of a preference (even a strong preference) than a requirement… what do we do then? Do we force that reluctant and unwilling university professor to accept us in that class? Force an employer to provide additional technology above and beyond what they have already agreed to pay for? Or is the best advocacy to push back by finding our own workarounds, by taking a different course with another professor or finding alternate sources of funding for that technology? Sometimes, one action is appropriate, and at other times, the other is. On other occasions, moving on to other pursuits is essential both for logistics and for the mental energy and stress that accompany fighting for access.
I know people who believe that fighting for access to anything for everyone is important and essential. Without people like them, we wouldn’t have made the advances we have to education, public access, and the workplace. But not everyone has the strength or inclination to advocate in this way; some prefer to advocate by finding ways around the obstacles placed in our path. Unfortunately, still others take no for an answer and live as though no one will ever accept them. This fatalistic view bothers me more than anything, because it perpetuates the idea that we will go away if we get turned back. And while I believe that pushing back and demanding access is important and essential, picking our battles is even more crucial. What does it benefit anyone if we are granted access to one aspect of life for no other reason than because it’s mandated? Does it not speak more to our tenacity and courage that we find ways around those roadblocks that get placed in our way? I’m not talking about making martyrs of ourselves, but finding the way to maintain our dignity while allowing our academic institutions, workplaces, places of leisure and modes of public transportation to realize that we are human first and disabilities second.
I don’t have easy answers to any of these questions, as my own choices regarding self-advocacy would be considered too polite by some and too demanding by others. Some would tell me that finding ways around the word “no” is not my responsibility. And yet, I find that such times give me an opportunity to prove not only to others but to myself that I am stronger than the word “no”, and that I can be creative when it comes to finding solutions to access concerns. Sure, I might ask a friend for help in a pinch, or might even have to push back and demand my right to access… but until such point as I am considered a colleague, a shopper, or a student first and a blind person second, I find proving the naysayers wrong incredibly rewarding.
For those who DO fight by demands and demonstrations for reasonable access and accommodations, I thank you, because my life would not be as well-rounded without people like you and those who’ve gone before. For those who request access by proving by getting kicked down and getting back up that classes, job duties, and independent life ARE possible, even essential, I thank you because you give me the courage to go on another day. For those who decide after weeks or months or years of fighting that it’s no longer worth it, and blaze your own path, you do show remarkable courage yourself by realizing that it just isn’t worth it anymore; you are not a failure, so pick yourself up and blaze a new path for yourself. But for those of you who just take no for an answer, just because it’s hard, don’t get in my way, because in effect you are part of the problem; obstacles are placed in our path due to the ignorance and unwillingness of a public that think we should be hidden away in institutions or treated like angelic beings for getting out of bed in the morning, and laziness and apathy perpetuate this.
Perhaps I’m more of a fighter than I thought…