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I have been a wheelchair user for more than 25 years. It’s been an interesting journey as a person with a disability and I have certainly learned a lot about myself.
Patience and adaptability have been instrumental in my growth and success over the past two decades, but all of my accomplishments couldn’t have been done on my own. Not just because of the fact that I am a quadriplegic.
From compassionate people to accessible accommodations, it takes a community for true inclusion to occur for those with disabilities.
While I have seen plenty of improvements in accommodations and accessibility, there are still things you can do to help people with disabilities. Here are a few things non-disabled people can make their communities more inclusive.
Don’t assume people in wheelchairs always need help.
In my experience, people have been quick to jump in and start helping people in wheelchairs without asking. In most cases, people just want to be kind and supportive genuinely, but we don’t always require assistance. Next time you see someone who may need help, please ask first before springing into action.
Leave van-accessible spots open if it’s possible.
For those in wheelchairs, these spots are very important when we go out. Yes, the proximity to the store or building is a big plus, but the major benefit is the striped area next to designated “van-accessible” parking spots. This allows people who use wheelchairs space to exit their vehicles safely.
Whenever I go out to stores and find all the available wheelchair-accessible spots taken, I often have to look for two spots that are open next to each other so I am able to get out of my van safely and without damaging cars nearby. That is why if you don’t absolutely need the space, please leave it open for others who do.
The striped area near a parking space isn’t a parking space.
As I stated in my previous tip, the striped area near handicapped spots is important for wheelchair users. Along with the actual spaces, I occasionally find people parked inside the striped area. Some park the vehicle completely or partly and it makes the spaces virtually unusable for wheelchair users. So please be a considerate community member and leave these areas open, no matter how appealing or convenient it may be.
Show more disability representation.
When I roll around my neighborhood, finding a sense of belonging is a big part of feeling included. One of the ways you can feel included is by seeing yourself represented in different aspects of life. And for people with disabilities, representation is still few and far between.
But what can be done where you live? If you own a store, including mannequins with disabilities or in wheelchairs in storefronts help. Employing people with disabilities is always a good move too. Also, including photos of people with disabilities in publications and advertisements is another great way to build diverse representations as well.
Make your services more accessible to everyone.
Along with representation, accessibility is another big concern for those with disabilities. In my various travels, inaccessible locations are still a big problem in today’s day and age. And let me tell you, there’s nothing more excluding and embarrassing than when you go somewhere and find out you can’t get in because a building doesn’t have wheelchair access or is too crowded to navigate without running over toes.
If you own or run a public building or store, ensuring the location is easy to navigate in a wheelchair and has the appropriate accommodations for various disabilities is greatly appreciated.
I have learned and experienced a lot as a quadriplegic over the last 25 years. One thing that I have seen is that progress has been made for improving the lives of those with disabilities, but inclusion continues to be an area for improvement.
With these tips we can all do our part to make everyone feel included and appreciated in society.