When we speak about accessibility, we often have a very narrow idea of what accessibility looks like. It can be incredibly difficult to fully comprehend how complex accessibility is, especially if we’re looking solely from the outside. When we look at things exclusively from an external perspective, it can often leave people to make assumptions without inside knowledge. Although we might think we know what do or how to help when it comes to assisting people with accessibility requirements, those assumptions, right there, can be a problem.
I was reminded of this after watching a video by Accept Difference, which speaks to a young girl called Mala and her mother about the assumptions made about disabilities and how frustrating they can be. In the video Mala mentions how sad it makes her when people make assumptions about her due to her disability, and I couldn’t help apply this same idea to when we make assumptions about accessibility requirements at university.
Not to mention that when we do make these assumptions about people’s accessibility requirements, they don’t always benefit people. Take this video about challenging assumptions as an example, Louise mentions that when people make assumptions and treat people differently solely due to their disability, it completely undermines their intelligence.
How making assumptions can affect people
If I were to ask you “What can I do to make this experience better for you?” Your answer is more than likely going to be different to the person next to you. In fact, everyone would probably have a different response. Some people may want or require something to make the experience better for them, but some might be fine as is. While we might think we know what people need, we need to challenge these ideas and just take time to ask and listen to what people want.
The thing is, accessibility can mean a lot of different things to different people. Everyone will have different needs and requests, and for us to assume what they are or might be can be really problematic. When we assume that “All people with X will need Y” or “Because you have Y, you will need X” we’re not only making assumptions without asking, but we’re seeing the access requirement before we see the individual.
These assumptions can have bad connotations as well. Historically those with accessibility requirements have been left out of conversations and repeatedly spoken over. Sarah Houbolt has written a fantastic blog post which mentions the history of this problem if you would like to know more.
What can we do?
Avoiding assumptions from preconceived ideas about accessibility is a great place to start. You can do this by taking the time to speak to those with accessibility requirements and ask what would best assist them. If someone you know has accessibility requirements, before making assumptions about their requirements, it’s always best to ask them to find out if they need support and how they would like to be supported. You can also take the time to speak to people who have knowledge of the area, such as someone from UTS Equity and Diversity, someone from Accessibility Services or one of the Academic Liaison Officers.
Feature image by: dashu83 at Freepik.