So that You Don’t Fall into “I Didn’t Think…”

2011-07-19

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So that You Don’t Fall into “I Didn’t Think…”

June 19, 2011

When people hear accessibility or barrier-free, people think it’s all about buses, trains, subways, and buildings, but in fact, accessibility is all about how we think and feel.  It’s the barrier we put up inside us.  Even now, when we go outside in wheelchairs we hear people talk.  “I wouldn’t want to be like them”, “I’d die before I’m seen looking like that.”  They are whispering, but we can hear them.  Or, even if they are not saying it out loud, they look away, giving away their thoughts.  I use to paint oil paintings.  The articles in newspapers and magazines that covered my painting had word like “despite debilitating handicap” and “trying hard even though” to get people’s attention.  My paintings were not seen for what they were but for what I was.  No one allowed my paintings to speak for themselves, to tell their story.  They were not seen as a piece of art.  In the media, people with disabilities are shown in welfare programs on the national public television’s education channel.  People with disabilities are stereotyped as being synonymous to welfare, as if our whole existence resides inside it.  Isn’t this the barrier we build up against accessibility?

 

I remember how it was 40 years ago.  When people with disabilities went outside, we were stopped and asked “which institution we ran away from.”  Things are actually not all that different now.  Instead of “institution” the word now is “welfare.”  It is the same.  We are trapped inside it and are separated from the rest of the world.

 

I wonder how many people with disabilities are employed in businesses with full pay, not the reduced salary paid to people employed for the purpose of fulfilling the disability employment quota.  How many are in university and graduate schools?  Even to this day, Japanese resumes require description of physical condition, and employers mandate medical examinations.  In examinations, finishing in the allotted time same as everybody else is an essential criteria.

 

In the West, you do not even put your gender in your resume.  You don’t even have a photograph of yourself.  This is because your photograph will show your race and gender which may be cause for discriminatory practice.  Of course you do not have to write down your physical condition.  In examinations, it is possible to take all the time you need in a separate room.  If there is a request, it is also possible to have people who can handwrite for you or to have caregivers present to assist you.  I was watching a kid’s program in the United States and saw an African American boy with cerebral palsy in an powered wheelchair in the opening scene every time.  In the toy store you find Barbie dolls and teddy bears in wheelchairs together with all the other toys.

 

In Atlanta, Georgia, it is city regulation for all newly built houses not to have steps at the front door.  There is also a stipulated minimum door width.  It is a requirement to have a wheelchair accessible bathroom on the first floor.  Even for houses built before the passing of the regulation, it is possible to apply for public support for such improvements.

 

People who feel that there is “no need to go that far” and that this is “going overboard”, need to face the facts.  No one dies an “able-body”, and no one was born without need of care.  Everyone needed care in their upbringing.  Making concrete steps towards change is the only way to realize a community where your neighbors can always be your neighbors regardless of their changing needs.

 

In the past, when people with disabilities demanded for elevators in every subway station, many of the reactions were “it will be too costly” or “may be not at every station.”  Now, we see parents with strollers, people with canes, people with luggage, young people who seem to have no apparent need to use elevators, and all kinds of people use them every day.  It has become so “common” to use the elevator, that when people notice a wheelchair approaching the elevator, some people pound on the “close” button and shut out the wheelchair user because they don’t want to share the elevator with people with disabilities.

 

No one stops to think “I wonder why they placed an elevator here in the first place?”

 

この投稿文は次の言語で読めます: Japanese

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