Access straw men

A lot of people are reluctant to change anything for the sake of accessibility, even if the change would be inexpensive and easy. Often, they resist even considering the possibility that there are changes they could make that would enable a broader range of people to participate.

Often, they set up access strawmen as a way to avoid negotiating access. 

Those conversations go like this:

  • The disabled person asks for a modification of some sort.
  • The resistant person ignores the actual request.
  • They instead describe something vaguely related that’s obviously unreasonable.
  • Then they insinuate that the disabled person asked them for the obviously unreasonable thing
  • They implore the disabled person to be more flexible and reasonable
  • The disabled person generally doesn’t get their needs met, and often ends up disoriented and feeling a lot of shame

An example:

  • Douglas: I can’t climb stairs. I need class to be held in a room on the first floor.
  • Roger: It sounds like what you really need is for all the buildings to be rebuilt for you. I can’t rebuild all the buildings; I have to focus on teaching.

Or sometimes:

  • Dawn: I can only read lips if people are looking at me. Can we talk about how to make class discussions work?
  • Robin: I can’t stop other students from talking to each other. Why don’t you take this opportunity to work on your listening skills?

When a person with a disability asks for an accommodation in school, work, a conference, or wherever, don’t set up a straw man to reject. Respond to the actual problem, and try to find a solution. Is there  a way to do the thing they’re asking for? If not, why not? Is there something else you *could* do that would work? Occasionally there is no good solution; more often, there is a way to make things work. When people in positions of responsibility are willing to look for access solutions and put effort into implementing them, a lot of things become possible.

Don’t be mean to fat disabled people

Some disabled people are fat.

Some fat disabled people have mobility impairments, and need to use wheelchairs and scooters.

Some fat disabled people need to sit down a lot.

Some fat disabled people need to park in handicapped parking.

Some fat disabled people need to sit in the disabled seating on busses.

Some fat disabled people need to use the bathroom stall that has grab bars.

Some people act like fat people are somehow “not really disabled, just fat” as though the two are somehow mutually exclusive. They’re not. Fat is not a cure for disability. Fat disabled people are as disabled as thin disabled people. Fat people have every right to exist in public and use mobility aids and other adaptations.

Some people act like being mean to disabled fat people will somehow force them to stop being fat and disabled. It won’t. Being mean is not a cure. If you yell at a fat disabled person for needing to park close to the building, it won’t give them the ability to walk further safely. It will just mean that their day got worse because someone decided to be pointlessly cruel to them.

Short version: Fat disabled people exist, and have a legitimate need for access and accommodations. Being mean to fat disabled people for having access needs doesn’t cure their disability. It just makes the world a crueler place. Don’t be a jerk.

Be nice to phone support people.

People who answer customer service lines have to deal with angry people all day.

If you have to call them when something broke and you’re angry, don’t be mean to them. It’s not their fault the thing broke or that the company did something unreasonable. Being mean to them will not get revenge on the company, and it will not make the company suddenly realize that they have to start being reasonable.

All being mean will accomplish is making someone’s else’s day worse.

Remember that there’s a person there on the other end of the line, and that they’ve been dealing with the brunt of frustrated angry people all day. Don’t be a jerk to them.

Don’t be a jerk to people working on Thanksgiving

So, I’ve seen a variantion on this a lot:

  • It’s Thanksgiving.
  • Bob wants some delicious ice cream to put on his pie.
  • He forgot to buy it before Thanksgiving
  • So he goes to the grocery store to get some.
  • He sees some people working in the store
  • Bob feels guilty because those people don’t get to be home with their families like he does. Or offended that people are dishonoring the holiday by working on it.
  • So he says something like “Working on Thanksgiving! That’s terrible.” Or “Wow, they have you working today? On a holiday?!”

This is obnoxious. If you buy stuff in a store on Thanksgiving, don’t do this to the people working there. The store is open because people, including you, want to shop in the store. The people who are working on Thanksgiving are making it possible for you to buy things on Thanksgiving. It’s important to be respectful about that.

If you have a problem with stores being open on Thanksgiving, consider not shopping on Thanksgiving. And consider taking it up with the owners or corporate office. Don’t take it out on the people who have to work on Thanksgiving. It’s not their fault, and they’re very likely not doing it willingly.

If you want to say something to acknowledge the situation, say thank you. Don’t dump your feelings of guilt on someone who is working on Thanksgiving – that won’t do them any good. Instead, either just buy the stuff normally, or say something like “Thank you for opening. I really appreciate being able to buy these things.”

Short version: Be respectful towards people who work in stores on Thanksgiving. Don’t judge them and don’t dump guilty feelings on them. 

Dwarfism awareness – thoughts on doing right by adult little people

I wrote this post for Dwarfism Awareness Month (which was in October) in collaboration with a friend who is a little person. It wasn’t ready until now, so I am posting it now.

Here are some things worth knowing:

Adult little people are adults, but people often treat them like children. You might be doing this too, and it’s important to get over that. Many people strongly associate being a certain size with being a young child. It’s important to be aware that not everyone that size is actually a child, and to act to mitigate any reactions you might be having that lead you to see an adult little person as a young child.

For instance, at work:

  • If you’re in a professional setting and someone is wearing professional clothing and acting like a professional adult, they’re not ten years old.
  • If you keep viscerally responding as though they are a child, it’s important to realize that it’s not ok and get over it. Don’t express that reaction, and don’t try to justify it.
  • Treat them as an adult
  • Respect their professional competence
  • If they are above you in the hierarchy, do not treat them as junior
  • If they are at your level in the hierarchy, do not treat them as junior
  • If they are actually junior, do not treat them like a visiting child or a teenager getting work experience. Respect them as an adult professional.

Another example: bars:

  • If you are in a bar, and someone is wearing adult clothing, acting like an adult, and drinking beer, they are not ten years old
  • They are an adult drinking beer in a bar
  • This is not a problem. This is something that many adults choose to do.
  • Do not look around for a caregiver. Adults do not have to bring minders to bars.
  • Do not ask them if they are ok unless you have an actual reason to think they might not be. Being a little person in a bar is not cause for concern in itself
  • If they are flirting with someone, this is not cause for concern either
  • Many adults flirt with people in bars. This is a thing that people do.
  • (Also, do not make jokes about tossing them, ask to toss them, or in any other way treat them as a toy. Adults have the right to drink beer in bars without being treated as a novelty attraction.)

And when you’re setting up an environment, remember that some adults are less than 4’10” and some are much shorter than that. Adult little people need access to anything that other adults need access to.

More specifically:

Adult little people need to be able to get through doors:

  • If you use a latch high on the door to prevent children from entering or exiting, you’re also making it impossible for adults of the same height to enter or exist
  • Latches need to be in places that adult little people can reach
  • Adults with disabilities should not be locked in like little children
  • If for some reason this kind of safety system is unavoidable, there needs to be an alternative way in and out that is reliably available
  • And you need to make it clear what that is

Keep this in mind when you put things on shelves:

  • If you’re putting things on shelves that a four foot tall person could not reach, you need an alternative way of reaching the thing
  • Or to put the thing in a lower place.
  • Keep in mind that if you put something on a high shelf in order to prevent children from reaching it, you’re also preventing adult little people from reaching it
  • Consider alternatives such as using child locks or supervising children more closely
  • (Or reconsidering whether the thing actually needs to be restricted. Eg: It might not actually be so terrible if your 7 year old students can reach the copier paper. You might not actually need an adults-only candy jar (and if you do, it’s not so nice to keep it where kids can see it anyway.))
  • If putting things on high shelves for safety reasons is truly unavoidable, make sure that there is an alternative way for adult little people to access them *and that you make it known what that way is*.

More generally:

  • Do not simplify your language the way you might when talking to a young child.
  • Do not assume that an adult little person is unemployed or only employed in a sheltered workshop or in jobs that can be done by children and teenagers.
  • Do treat adult little people as the age they actually are. (Eg: if they are elderly, don’t treat them as though they’re 20).
  • Do not ask invasive medical questions.

Short version: Adult little people are adults. Since many of them are the same height as young children, a lot of people treat them like children. Don’t do that. Also, make sure that you’re configuring things so that short adults can do the things that adults need to do.

Accessibility is more valuable than paper

Sometimes, when organizations need to make hard copies of things, they try to save paper by making the print tiny. This is an accessibility problem.

For example:

  • Printing copies of a song you want to teach in a small font so that you can get four copies out of a single piece of paper
  • Reducing the size of a flier so you can fit four on a page
  • Passing out sheets of instructions in very small print

This does save paper. It also excludes a lot of people. Not everyone can read 8 point text. Most people above a certain age can’t read that, and many younger people can’t either. Those people matter more than a few sheets of paper.

If it’s important enough to make copies, it’s important to make copies that everyone who needs the information can read.

If you must make the copies small, make a few large copies available for people who need them.

This Halloween, don’t be a jerk

On Halloween, some people end up being really mean to other people, sometimes unintentionally and sometimes on purpose.

Some considerations for avoiding being a jerk:

Not everyone likes to be startled or scared:

  • Scaring people is a major part of Halloween tradition, and it’s ok to like it
  • But it’s also ok not to like it
  • And it’s wrong to scare or startle people who don’t like to be scared
  • Being scared when you don’t want to be is really, really unpleasant
  • It can also be physically or psychologically dangerous for a lot of people.
  • If you know someone doesn’t like to be scared, don’t scare them
  • If you don’t know whether someone likes to be scared, don’t scare them
  • If you think someone likes to be scared and it turns out they don’t, apologize and don’t do it again
  • If scaring people is really really important to you, consider working or volunteering at a haunted house, or making your own haunted house.
  • Scaring is ok, but it needs to be consensual

Don’t wreck people’s stuff:

  • Some people like to smash jack-o-lanterns or other decorations, sometimes at the end of the night
  • This is a mean thing to do, especially because some people, particularly children, get really emotionally attached to their decorations
  • (Especially if they have put a lot of work into creating them)
  • Some people might try to convince you that it’s just the done thing and that it doesn’t really upset anyone, but they’re wrong
  • Breaking people’s stuff is mean
  • If you want to smash pumpkins, get your own pumpkins to smash

Don’t be a jerk to people who don’t participate in trick or treating:

  • Most adults who live in areas in which kids trick or treat are happy to participate
  • It’s a good thing to do, but it’s not something anyone is obligated to do
  • Some adults don’t participate, and that’s ok
  • They might not be able to afford to buy candy
  • They might not be able to get up so much or tolerate constant interaction/doorbell ringing.
  • Halloween might be against their religion
  • They might not want to participate for any number of other reasons
  • That’s a legitimate choice, no matter why they don’t do it
  • Some people punish people who don’t participate by egging or tping their house, or banging out the door over and over.
  • Those are really mean things to do. Don’t do it.
  • Trick or treating requires consent, and it’s not ok to be mean to people who don’t participate

Just, generally speaking – if something would normally be mean, it’s mean on Halloween. If something would normally require consent, it requires consent on Halloween. Don’t be a jerk.