Last year I embarked on a fact-finding mission in my hometown of Nakuru. I wanted to evaluate the state of accessibility to public buildings for disabled people. I was curious to know how committed the public and private sectors are to the cause of inclusion. Under the scorching hot sun in March, my friend and I began our assessment armed with a camera and the will to impact change.
I thought that if I showed the good and the bad in our town, relevant stakeholders would improve what was already good and change what was otherwise. It irked me that every time we went to town I had to stay behind in the car because the environment wasn’t accessible. Being restricted in that way made me feel confined and unwanted.
I liken this kind of exclusion to a man being turned away from a hotel because he doesn’t own a car. Or a child denied an education because she doesn’t have books. Why should a disabled person deposit his money from outside the bank because they haven’t installed a ramp?
I made an interesting discovery. It is the really official establishments that hardly acknowledge the existence of disabled people. The banks, government offices, and clinics are a disabled person’s worst nightmare. Just to clarify, I am referring to the kind of disabilities that challenge mobility. Wheelchair users, people on crutches and walking frames.
Most bars, on the other hand, are a safe haven for us. A couple of bars I have visited have ramps everywhere, disability washrooms and even disability parking spots. How could that be? Well, the short answer is, the people who run bars don’t pretend like we do not exist. Their reasons might be more about making business than supporting the cause but either way, I feel accommodated for, that is all that matters.
There is a selection of groups who believe that advocating for reasonable access is not necessary. They feel like we are much too much fuss over an issue that to them, isn’t that serious. I have met such people, and my heart aches for them. They are ignorant and misled. Accessibility goes beyond the existence of a physical structure or a disabled sign. It is a mindset. The same way shopkeepers think about their diverse customers while they stock their shops. You have sweets for children, sanitary towels for women, cigarettes for smokers and condoms for men. Why won’t building owners think about wheelchair users and people who use canes?
After the accident, I needed to go to court a couple of times for my settlement case. It was my first ever time at the Nakuru courts and sadly, there is nothing to write home about in terms of access. The struggle started right from the parking lot. My parents carried me over all the stairs and through the narrow doors. The courtroom was even worse, by the time I was giving my testimony my shoulders were sore and the rest of my body was all tensed up. I would rather go to a bar.
Look within yourself and interrogate your own attitudes about disability and access. Are you accommodating? Are you accepting? Do you support inclusion? When I went around Nakuru that day I targeted malls and other big buildings, but my goal was to impact the people. Assess your surroundings and do what you can do to make them more inclusive.