Inaccessibility: What is the cost?

The image is a stylized drawing of a woman watering a garden of flowers in a brain on a sunny day. The woman is standing on a stool  to reach the top of the head and using a watering can to pour water on the yellow flowers in the brain.

I attended a session about accessibility, and we watched a video by Imani Barbarin. The information shared in the video was about accessibility and what you lose, as a person with a disability, if you do not share your needs and request accommodations. That sentence brought me back to my experience and triggered some memories of the cost when I have not made my needs known. Our society relies largely on sight for conveying information: printed fliers, storefronts, statues, signs, etc. People who are blind and visually impaired are only able to access their environment via their other senses, such as touch or audio provided by another person or assistive technology. Depending on the situation, this may or may not suffice. In order to get the information that sighted people have access to, we as blind and visually impaired need to make our needs known explicitly. The unknown of how others will react to our request requires vulnerability and trust when sharing our needs. Our request can be received with different responses from understanding to questioning to stigma. People often do their best to meet our needs, but some also might ignore, reject, or only partially fulfill the request.

For example, frequently in social situations, people often show pictures to each other and talk about them. When requested to describe the visuals, some just say, “We are sharing images of us in this location.” Others ignore the request and continue the discussion. Some describe the images in a way that will include the person who is blind or visually impaired in the discussion. This is one example of how not receiving access can affect the individual’s feelings about themselves and the situation and the reason that they’re there.

Continuously facing inaccessibility in various settings can cause mental and emotional fatigue, which can lead people who are blind or visually impaired to withdraw from social activities and become isolated. This cycle of fatigue and isolation can put the individual at higher risk of mental health challenges like depression and anxiety. Facing mental health challenges can make it even more difficult for a person to communicate their needs explicitly to others. The fear of communicating with others can further limit their access to the world around them. Mental health and access are directly linked. 

I will leave this post having you think about these questions: What does it cost to make your needs known? What is the value when you make inaccessible things accessible for people who are blind and visually impaired?

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