My access needs are actually fairly minimal. I need level access to spaces, shade if it is very sunny and to be able to sit somewhere that I won’t be touched or knocked. While these things are straightforward, they are not readily available in lots of places. This can be a challenge for me, and the people with me. There is quite a bit of guidance out there for people to support others that are being harassed. This is really helpful since hate crime on the basis of gender, race and disability remains far too prevalent. Unfortunately, there is less available guidance on how to support someone that is asking for access. There are lots of reasons for this – disability is diverse and access needs vary widely. This is simply my reflections on what would be helpful to me. It is intended to be adapted by others who want to communicate what would be helpful to them.
When you are spending time with someone that has access needs, there are things that you can do in advance to make life easier if you know what their access needs are. These include:
- Actively check on access in advance.
- Let the person know that you have done so and the information that you have found.
- When you get to a business or event where the access information you were given is inaccurate, raise this problem independently with event staff if you get there first, or ask the disabled person whether they would like you to take the lead in dealing with the problem.
- Refuse to use businesses or go to events that exclude people by failing to meet very basic access requirements (not having a ramp for a single step, not having a hearing loop available at the checkout).
- Ask the disabled person about their preferences and desires before you go anywhere new or anywhere that may not be accessible to them.
When someone is actively asking for access it is really helpful to have witnesses, especially when access being denied:
- Document what is happening, making notes of the request for access, what is being said and the tone of the situation. If you can, make a note of names and important details. This might include taking a photograph of access barriers like steps.
- If possible, make eye contact with the person that is making the access request and ask if they would like any support.
- Take cues from the person that is asking for access.
- Attempt to intervene if someone is trying to put their hands on the disabled person without permission.
- Follow up with the person after the encounter is over – do they need your details so that they can call on you as a witness if they want to make a complaint or take the issue further?
- Offer to make a complaint as a bystander – it is often really exhausting to be the only one complaining about access problems, and taking to social media or an organisations complaints department to highlight the issue is often helpful.
- Escalate the situation – the aim is to get access which many service providers, businesses and employees already experience as aggressive or upsetting. Making angry comments can increase the likelihood of harassment and make the situation less safe for the disabled person. This is especially problematic in spaces where the disabled person needs assistance to leave.
- Make suggestions that undermine the disabled person’s autonomy – such as lifting them over a step or removing their mobility device.
- Interrupt the person that is making the access request.
These are my own do’s and don’ts, but many of them will apply to others too. Please feel free to add your own do’s and don’ts in the comments, or to take this list as a starting point and make it your own.