I believe this is the first year I’ve actively participated in Blogging Against Disablism Day. I wasn’t sure I’d be participating this year either, but I’m well enough to write a blog post so am doing so 🙂
I have more than one disability. I have severe M.E, which is the most obvious one as it means I can’t walk so use a wheelchair when I’m able to get out of bed. I am autistic, dyspraxic (considered part of autism) and have anxiety, which is mostly related to autism. I also have a history of severe depression and other mental health issues, which luckily I have recovered from.
When most people think of making things accessible, they think of ramps and lifts. Ramps and lifts are awesome things and I wouldn’t be able to do as much as I can without them. It’s brilliant that more and more buildings and services are becoming accessible to those with mobility problems, though there are still places that need a lot of work. The thing is, mobility problems aren’t the only types of disability. For me, the autism, dyspraxia and anxiety, and previously depression also are disabilities, which I require help with and mean I have different access needs. Of course, other people with different disabilities such as sight or hearing impairments, learning disabilities and such will also have access needs that need to be taken into consideration, but a lot of the time these are overlooked as people automatically think of wheelchairs.
One of the biggest areas of difficulty I’ve had related to accessibility is regarding being able to access services without using a telephone. I have auditory processing difficulties that make hearing someone on the telephone very difficult, especially if the other person is in a busy place, a call centre or the line is bad. I find it difficult to know what to say on the telephone, especially if I’m unable to predict what the other person is going to say. I also have periods of time when I completely lose speech, and have no way of knowing when I’ll be able to speak reliably again. Add on to that anxiety, and using the telephone is an exceptionally difficult task that I try to avoid if at all possible. When I also had depression and for a while afterwards it was just impossible. (The M.E also makes it difficult as conversations are very energy draining without adding on the extra issues, but I’m going to ignore that for now.) To add to things, Johan also has similar difficulties, though in most cases he finds it a little easier than I do.
Now, difficulty using the telephone is relatively common among those with mental health problems, as well as for autistic people. Despite this, one of the hardest services to access without using the telephone is mental health services. Crisis care here is accessed by telephone, a lot of the time appointments are made or changed via telephone, contacting social workers or CPNs is done by telephone. When I was last in contact with mental health services about 18 months ago it was still impossible to use email as a substitute, and when Johan was in contact with them more recently he was also not given an email address, but just a telephone number. If you needed to speak to your social worker urgently and couldn’t use the telephone, it was a matter of tough- either you get someone else to do it for you or go without. Letters can take a couple of days to get to the recipient (ignoring issues of being able to get out to post it) which may be too long in a crisis. Of course, deaf people will also have this problem, so it’s also discriminating against them.
Some areas of the NHS and social services are embracing new technology to enable more accessibility. I communicate with my (physical disability) social worker by email, as I do the OT who is arranging adapting my flat and a few other people. In a lot of doctors surgeries it’s now possible to arrange appointments and order repeat prescriptions online, as well as by telephone and by going into the surgery itself, and more are signing up to that as time passes. Unfortunately there are still a lot of organisations and services though that assume everyone either has the ability to use the telephone themselves or has someone willing to do it for them. I’ve had to send angry complaints to a few companies who insisted that they could only do certain things by telephone (in most of those cases, when I told them they were being discriminatory an alternative method was suddenly found, often meaning an email address).
I’m aware I’ve concentrated on one very specific area where things aren’t as accessible as they easily could be (a lot of the places such as mental health services are already using email internally, so providing an email address for clients who need it wouldn’t be difficult to organise). This is just an example though- there are lots of other areas where services could make things more accessible to more people that they probably don’t think about. I wanted to think of more examples but my brain is too foggy now, so I think I will leave it there. I suggest you go to the main Blogging Against Disablism Day 2012 page and read the other blogs on there 🙂