Have you ever been looking forward to going somewhere, spent time getting ready and travelling to an event or meeting, only to find you can’t go in when you get there and have to turn around and go home again?
This is a situation that confronts disabled people around the world every day – the feeling when you can’t take part in an activity or join a meeting because it is upstairs and there isn’t a lift, or the lift is broken, is awful. Recent stories about disabled people being left stranded on planes at airports or unable to get on and off of trains are far too common. You feel excluded, upset and frustrated.
Global Accessibility Awareness Day
Thursday 18 May 2023 is Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) – the purpose of GAAD is to get everyone talking, thinking and learning about digital access and inclusion. Cranfield Disability Network has organised sessions about making digital content accessible to all and you can watch a YouTube playlist on the subject here.
It’s also important that we don’t forget about physical, in-person accessibility.
Physical access for disabled people is sadly often still treated as an afterthought. Buildings are still constructed with narrow doorways, fixtures and fittings are placed too high and out of reach, and ramps are angled steeper than the side of a mountain. Facilities are still located upstairs in buildings without lifts.
Although the Covid-19 pandemic has helped – in some ways bringing about changes overnight that disabled people had been asking about for decades, such as remote and flexible working – many employers still aren’t properly equipped for a fully hybrid model where people can come together seamlessly through technology whether they are at home or in the office.
Always providing an online option for people to join events and meetings is one way to help – this is now very often one of the most low-cost and doable workplace adjustments you can offer to make work and study environments accessible for a wider range of colleagues and students – but in-person events that everyone can join are still important too.
What can you do to help?
Ensuring accessibility and inclusion isn’t only something that organisations or building designers can assist with when designing new buildings. There are things we can all do to help and be mindful of; ultimately just trying to be more considerate and kinder in our actions:
- Don’t park in (or across) Blue Badge parking spaces if you don’t have a Blue Badge.
- Don’t use accessible toilets or lifts unless you really need to – leave them free for others to use who might not be able to go elsewhere.
- Be patient with disabled people who may be getting on or off public transport – offer priority accessible seats if you don’t need to use them.
- Think about the language you use and what you say – if you’re writing a sign for a lift that is broken, for example, apologising for the ‘inconvenience’ only belittles the problem. For disabled people who need to use a lift, it isn’t simple inconvenience, it’s exclusion. Similarly, don’t suggest to someone that they could use the stairs until the lift is fixed – if they’re trying to use the lift, there’s probably a good reason and it isn’t something that they can decide to ignore for a day.
- If you are showing slides, documents, or images in a meeting, don’t leave your audience to read it themselves. Assume your audience might not be able to read your screen; read it to them (and invite people to use the captions if the meeting is online). This helps people with conditions affecting their vision, but screen content read aloud also helps students and colleagues who are taking notes while listening to what the presenter or lecturer is saying.
- Any time you write a phone number in “contact us” information, make sure you include an email address as well. This ensures people who have conditions affecting their hearing or speech can get in touch with you, too. Some people with mental health conditions or autism also often prefer to email rather than use the phone.
Cranfield Disability Network is working to develop an inclusive events checklist that everyone on campus will be able to use when they are organising events. Think about whether the room you are booking is on the ground floor or has lift access; is there Blue Badge parking nearby, is there an accessible toilet? If the event involves activities, are they something that everyone could take part in? If you’ve ordered catering, have you checked whether attendees have dietary requirements?
About Cranfield Disability Network
Cranfield Disability Network aims to promote disability awareness and an inclusive, safe and supportive environment in which everybody is treated with respect and dignity, in line with our University values. We work to help identify and support actions and interventions to make Cranfield a more inclusive University for disabled staff and students.
If you’d like to get involved, please email email@example.com.