Friday, February 20, 2015

Accommodations and Accessibility

Can we talk about the difference between accommodation and accessibility for a moment?

Something has come up twice in the past week in VERY disparate contexts. For those people who may be reading this whose mouths spoke or fingers typed the comments to which I am responding; please know that this isn't about you. I respect you and I respect what you have done and are doing around these issues. I am somewhat venting and somewhat explaining my interpretations, views, and stances on this.

That thing which has occurred twice is that, when discussing the presence of ASL interpreters at an event (two dramatically different) events, I have heard comments or questions to the effect that interpreters will be required only if it is known in advance that D/deaf people will be attending.

Lez be fairy queer about this: that statement is accurate to the ADA and at least semi-reasonable for the lack of perfectly reliable predictive psychic powers among the populace. But lez also be fairy queer about this other thing: we don't only install the ramps when we know someone with a mobility issue will be coming to the event and then remove them afterwards.

The difference is that of accommodation v. accessibility. It is also the difference between friendship (individual and interpersonal) and hospitality (social and landscape-oriented). At a panel I attended at one of these events, Elena Rose and Dee Shull reframed the issue of gender inclusivity in a powerful way: that of hospitality. Considering that this was a pagan event -- and hospitality ranges from vital to central in many, if not most, paganisms -- this was an important reframe.

Accommodation, which might be renamed friendship, is when someone tells you that they need something, and you provide it. It is occasionally what we offer to people with sense disabilities -- D/deaf or blind people, for instance. Certainly, a lot of anti-bigotry work within and without oneself consists of this -- for example, not responding with "Not all men" when a woman or feminine/femme person is asking you for emotional support around the microaggressions they face everyday. Accommodation is terribly, truly, and deeply important, do not get me wrong.

However, it is important to remember that systemic problems (such as ableism) cannot be solved by individual solutions. That is where accessibility comes in. Accessibility is a state of being wherein the people of the oppressor class take on the work that has historically been the burden of the oppressed: to find ways for them to have access and safety. This is what is generally offered to people with mechanical disabilities -- mobility or fatigue issues, for example. We build the ramps and the resting spots at the proper distance and we generally make our spaces easier for them to navigate whether or not we know they will be there.

Note that neither accommodation nor accerssibility is often offered to people with cognitive or behavioral divergences.

Hospitality is what will end bigotry, prejudice, and discrimination, exactly BECAUSE it is landscape-oriented and passive on the part of the oppressed group. When D/deaf people have the safety of knowing that they will have access to what is being presented, without having to invest any energy or spend any spoons in doing or achieving that, only then will their level of interaction be at their decision, rather than ours as hearing people.

A lot of people seem to think that we should accomplish accommodations before we accomplish accessibility. It's certainly the principle the ADA was based upon. And it is true that accommodations require smaller actions, require less work on our part, then accessibility. Haven't we been told over and over that there is value in doing the easy part first so that we have the ability to focus when we tackle the hard stuff? If everyone is providing accommodations, then won't that be effectively the same as achieving accessibility? But if one is not hospitable, if one does not create a welcoming atmosphere around them and in their space, they will never be close enough to people to become friends with them. Three out of four white people in this country don't have any black friends. I assure you that most of those people have no intention of excluding black people from their social networks -- in fact, many of them will tell you that they wish they had black friends! -- but they have not put the effort into creating an environment where black people feel welcome in their lives. Accessibility, thus, breeds accommodations rather than the other way around.

The presence of ASL interpreters at an event is as non-negotiable to me as the presence of ramps and elevators in a building, regardless of what the ADA says. I am aware that it can be expensive, but the alternative is telling D/deaf people that they are not welcome here, and that is far more expensive in my accounting.

1 comment:

  1. An excellent clarification of the two concepts. Thank you!