Recently I was in a restaurant having lunch with a colleague. The server came to tell us the specials and announced that the soup that day was vegetable, but added: “It isn’t totally vegan, because it’s made with a little bit of cream.”
“So then, it’s not vegan at all,” I suggested.
They thought for a second, smiled, and agreed.
The experience prompted a conversation with my colleague about accessibility. It happens that places of business sometimes state that they are “not 100% accessible” or “not fully accessible”. And it’s easy to miss what this actually means. What it means is they are NOT accessible.
Accessibility means having access. You either have it, or you don’t. A little bit means you’re on your way, but it doesn’t cut it for someone who needs accessibility.
What might it mean to “not be fully accessible”?
So let’s look a little closer at what “not 100% accessible” or “not fully accessible” might mean. I’ll choose a physical location and make it a restaurant (but keep in mind that accessibility is about more than buildings. It includes everything from websites to participation in events and much in between).
It might mean that you can get in, but the bathrooms are not on the main floor and there is no elevator. So you can come and eat, but you may not be able to use the bathroom. Fail.
Or it could mean that there is a “tiny” step at the front door, but everything else is accessible once you’re inside. Fail, again.
It could mean you have to come in a different way – like, maybe through the back. So you can come, but you can’t get in the way everyone else does. Not as bad as the bathroom, but not great.
Here’s one we may not think of as easily. How about the bathroom stalls? Is there at least one (or two if there are gendered bathrooms) that is large enough for someone in a wheelchair to navigate? Or is there a separate bathroom that is large enough for the maneuvering required in a wheelchair? Fail.
More than physical access
These are just 4 examples, and they are all about physical accessibility. Here are a few more: what font is your marketing material? Is your website accessible for people with visual and/or hearing impairment? Are your programs financially accessible for those who need them?
I could go on.
It is easy to think that being on our way is good enough when we are not impacted by the accessibility issues we are trying to address. But saying we are not 100% accessible feels like it’s trivializing what accessibility actually means – and what it means to those who need it.