Commentary: Making the World Accessible For All

Feb. 23, 2016

Without a doubt, Stevie Wonder struck a chord for those of us with disabilities during last week’s Grammy Awards. “You can’t read it, you can’t read Braille!” he joked after opening the envelope containing the name of the winner for song of the year written in Braille. “Every single thing must be made accessible to every single person with a disability,” he continued in a more serious tone. This short sentence summarizes what people with disabilities have been fighting for even before the passage of the ADA and similar legislation.

As a person with a disability, I believe equal access should not be a privilege. Instead, it’s a basic right all human beings deserve and need. I consider myself fortunate to live in the United States, where laws like the ADA have helped make public facilities and transportation more accessible to people with all types of disabilities. Here in Chicago, for example, ramps make it possible for those who use wheelchairs to travel on buses and trains, while audio announcements allow people like myself with vision loss to know when to get on or off. Other things like Braille signs, elevators and accessible restrooms make stores, offices, restaurants, etc. accessible to people with different disabilities.

Making public facilities accessible is not the entire solution by any means. I often find that the greatest obstacle I encounter when I’m out and about is the persisting negative attitude towards people with disabilities. Today, over 70 percent of Americans with disabilities are not employed. It’s not that folks with disabilities are lazy or don’t want to find a job, but rather they are simply not given an opportunity by employers. Often when prospective employers find out about a candidate’s disability they immediately assume the person can’t do the job. In other words, I could be living in the most accessible place on earth, but what good would it be if no one believes in me or my abilities?

I applaud Stevie Wonder for speaking out in favor of accessibility for all people with disabilities. Better yet, I commend him for doing it at an event being watched by practically the entire world. The media rarely covers topics pertaining to individuals with disabilities, so therefore most people are not aware about the accessibility barriers we still face. Stevie Wonder has always been a great ambassador to the community of people with disabilities, and I truly hope that his important message at the Grammys last week will spark more conversation about accessibility and disability rights. By making all public spaces accessible and spreading awareness about disabilities, we can all help make our world more inclusive. Only then will we be able to say that everything is fully accessible to everyone.

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