We’re trying to keep this blog personal, so we’ll use statistics sparingly, but you need to really think about the implications of the following two stats:
1 in 7! (source) That’s 1 BILLION people whose bodies and/or minds don’t function perfectly. Severity level is irrelevant. We’ve got a lot of neighbors with less than perfect lives who we need to be thinking about in all our endeavors.
The U.S. population is getting older every day (source). With age comes higher prevalence of disability, simply because our bodies wear out. That’s to be expected. The impact on life will be less of a struggle if we’re ready when the time comes.
I’m admittedly not a big fan of statistics. Numbers start to all run together and lose their “punch” once you’ve seen enough of them, especially when they’re not surprising (like the number of social media users, etc). Universal design is typically associated with the disability realm, and I’m sure you know that when people are trying to get support for a cause, they’ll often whip out numbers to prove their case.
I’m cool with that. However, it’s REALLY DIFFICULT to empathize if the numbers don’t really mean anything to you. That doesn’t mean that you’re cold-hearted. It simply means that the lens through which you view the world can be different than someone else’s.
I admitted to loosely using the word “retard” in my post about people-first language. This didn’t seem like that big of a deal until I got to grad school. Actually, higher education has nothing to do with it, but I was involved on a research team that worked with individuals and families in Greensboro, NC, who have children with some form of intellectual or developmental disability. I quickly figured out what not to say. Suddenly that term had extra depth that I never cared to really figure out, because it didn’t matter to me prior.
Folks, I HAVE A DISABILITY. Thing is, mine is purely physical. The reality is that I really don’t have much of a connection to the realm of cognitive disabilities, and I don’t understand everything that demographic deals with. I have a solid idea of it though, but I can’t truly empathize.
When people throw out statistics that lump “people with disabilities” into one big generalization, you’ve gotta look at it super critically, because there’s a really good chance that people in those statistics don’t even understand the full scope of what’s being communicated.
Maybe all you need to care about when you see statistics that generalize disability is that YOU’RE NOT IMMUNE. Your family isn’t immune. Your friends aren’t immune.
I never planned on my life being dramatically flipped upside down because of a freak accident that damaged my spinal cord when I took a bad fall. Parents of children diagnosed with Autism or Down Syndrome never plan on conceiving a kid who has a different “normal” than peers. Elderly people never plan on having strokes with debilitating side effects. Do I need to keep going here?
This is where universal design comes into play. No one plans on having to deal with a disability. I hate to say this, but you should expect to deal with some form of disability someday. The reality is that there’s a high likelihood that you – or someone in an immediate circle of family or friends – either has a disability now, or will in the future.
PLEASE don’t overlook immediate opportunities to build universal design characteristics into present and future endeavors. We’ve got an ever-growing number of people who wrestle with disability in today’s society. If this remains an afterthought, implementing [legal] accessible features will continue to feel institutional, unsightly, stigmatizing, and segregating… instead of feeling natural, comfortable, and welcoming.
This is reality, folks. We live in an imperfect world. People’s lives reflect that, whether you can tell or not. Is there a reason we shouldn’t make attempts to be as welcoming to as many people as possible? (answer: no.) This goes beyond your attitude toward others. Consider all the places, products, and programs you support, and then dream a little about what’s possible.
postscript: Sarah’s Pinterest boards have some good examples of environments & places that demonstrate universal design in practice. We’ll talk more about products and programs on the blog.