by Elizabeth Walsh
Walking in my shoes – accessibility explained. Each and every day our lives impact on each person’s life whose path we cross, metaphorically and physically, positively or negatively!
This month, as we look forward to Christmas, to celebrating life, hope and love, I ask you to reflect on ‘inclusion’ and what it means to you.
“Today, I went into my new job to find that they’d knocked down the existing reception desk and were rebuilding it to be a better height for me in my wheelchair. I felt overwhelmed and grateful, but do you know what? That’s inclusion.” Emily Morison.
She approached the friendly, helpful, gentleman who monitors the door of the supermarket, since the onset of Covid, Since the one-way system came in, it has been difficult for her, as the exit door, exits onto a slope where the camber tries to pull the trolley from her grip and launch an attack on a few unsuspecting shoppers. Additionally, lacking balance, and strength, a battle of wills ensues, with the stubborn trolley often winning, as it sails on a mission of its own away from her. Explaining the battle lines to this very kind gentleman, his one regret was that his attention was not drawn to this issue sooner. There is no requirement to use the one-way system currently, however if it returns, it will never ever apply to her, His eyes were unhappy that this had occurred. How very kind. This is inclusion.
The checkout loomed, as she pushed the joystick. Her dog signalled wait, it’s not quite wide enough. For a moment in time, there was confidence, and then, she should have listened, no damage, but there is a funny sound and there are lights flashing on the chair; and for her to back up, so must everyone else! Apologetically, at the man behind, “Sorry, I should have listened to my dog, but today, I did it my way”! “Without people with courage who go forth like you, nothing would ever happen!” he replied. Inclusion.
“Who brought you?” “Do you drive”? Who is this person who asks such questions, which are not their business, do they drive? Why should he not? They do not know him. A lack of respect. This able-ist attitude is not impressive, not inclusive.
Christmas is looming, and so are the crowds, the lack of space to manoeuvre safely, bags knocking into people, trolleys, assistance dogs, buggies, wheelchairs, children, a perfect kaleidoscope of pandemonium and there are queues, It snakes like a macarena, drunkenly out of order at the end of a good wedding, through the shop, far away from the coveted landing strip of check out counters, lights beaming above them like a control tower at Dublin Airport, on a chaotic Christmas eve. The disappointment mounts deep in her chest, as she moves to replace her intended purchases, when friendly smiling eyes appear above a mask, wearing an identifying shop uniform, “this way, you don’t have to queue, we have special check-out facilities for people with disabilities”! She is whisked past the long line, realising that this is shop policy, people with disabilities are taken care of, they can expend their energy doing what they need to, the staff are very happy to assist in reducing the challenges they meet. A policy and service unique to one popular chain of stores in Ireland. Inclusion, first rate.
Challenged by Covid, challenged by lack of adherence by authorities to universal design, challenged by lack of targeted services to assist PWD: So who excelled in 2021?
The staff of An Post in Clonakilty deserve special recognition, for the caring, considerate, low key, inclusive way all of their committed, friendly, reliable staff apply themselves to their posts. From their delivery personnel, who manage also to check on those in our community who may be at risk, to the welcoming crew in the beautiful old Post Office in Clonakilty, where every face is recognised, every ability remembered, hearing impaired, no problem, visually impaired, they remember, weak hands, the stamps miraculously get stuck on the letters and the money is sorted so it is more manageable. All with a subtlety, so that an individual’s privacy remains private, and there is never any patronising. This is inclusion in motion, fluid and flawless.
Those businesses who adjusted or who removed street (decorative) furniture, when they realised the way it impacted the lives of PWD and blocked their access to/through town centres. This is inclusion.
The businesses who re-marked their accessible parking for PWD and mother and baby parking, to align with alterations in shop entry due to Covid restrictions, thus keeping accessible parking as close to door entry as possible. This is inclusion.
The businesses who have been noted to open an extra till when they notice a PWD in a queue, or when they just pull that PWD out to avoid them standing for a period of time, which may be challenging for them. This is awareness and inclusion.
The people who live in our community, who have developed an additional awareness, who are teaching their children not to run into, or to push into a PWD, elderly, or any person, who notice a PWD and allow them space, who realise that doors are heavy to push open and offer to help when someone struggles. This is inclusion.
Inclusion is living everyday with awareness, making our community a more accessible environment together, cohesively!
Have a very happy and safe Christmas 2021!