Wednesday, March 17, 2010

You Can't Play

Whenever I leave my house – and I do mean whenever – something will happen that I interpret as "You can't play." These are events or circumstances that by their nature exclude me because of my blindness. Each and every incident is a reminder that I do not quite fit in the world, an octagonal plug in a round hole fitting, but with gaps all around.

These acts that speak louder than words fall into some broad categories. "You can't play unless you figure out how" is the least irritating possibility. When I first moved into my apartment complex, I discovered the mailboxes were in a grid without tactile numbers, so in order to "play" I had to learn my location and subsequently count rows and columns when I check my box.

Other examples include:

* intersections with crazy traffic patterns and no audible walk indication
* board games that I can't independently play being brought out at parties
* cafes and other public places where furniture is randomly relocated sometimes in walkways
* hotel room doors without tactile numbers

Eating out with friends, wait staff often sets a print menu on the table before me. This says, "You can't play unless you get help," and in this particular case has the added message of "and I am not going to acknowledge that may be the case." Now my friend is put in the position of having to read the menu. Equally irritating examples include:

* receptionists at doctor's offices handing me a clipboard of print forms
* bathroom doors without tactile indications of gender
* anything that comes in my mailbox not from Mom who always brailles it
* electronic appliances without accessible manuals online
* inaccessible websites
*stores of all types
* any organized outing where a car is required to attend

Musicians often tell stories before performing a particular piece of music. Sometimes they use visual gestures or facial expressions to communicate meaning they do not otherwise verbalize. This is a case of "You can't play and there's nothing to do about it." Additional examples are:

* anything from the above category in the absence of a person to assist
* television and movies without descriptive audio tracks
* elevators without tactile markings when you are alone
* * attending a meeting where print is used to convey information and never verbalized
* any service person refusing to help
* signs of all types because I don't even know they are there!
* ATMS that don't talk
* board games I can't even play with help
* promotional offers where you must be sighted in order to avail yourself of them

Finally, we have the most infuriating category. I have gotten on planes with only a cane that folds in half and it has been taken away from me in the name of safety. To me, this says, "You could play, but I'm refusing you the thing that makes it possible." This also happens when:

* a website I used to be able to use is redesigned making it inaccessible
* cell phone manufacturers and service providers stripping away features that make the phone more accessible so they can use the space for graphical interfaces or advertising
* refusals to make modifications because they would be inconvenient
* online information that becomes inaccurate because it's not updated

As the above lists indicate, circumstances routinely tell me I can't play. Each is angering, emphasizes my difference as a negative, and furthers my feelings of isolation.

Here's the thing: these continual messages of exclusion do not have to exist. Most have solutions and often those resolutions are not costly only requiring a desire to banish such messages and/or creativity to find ways of accomplishing this.

I could be utterly obnoxious slighting people for their lack of will or intellect, but I honestly believe the problem is more basic. People are simply unaware that their acts, words, or ways of doing things send a message beyond what they intend. However, I do believe individuals should open their ears and minds to hear the impact of what they say and do. Hiding behind ignorance as an excuse works exactly once, then I believe people should make the effort to educate themselves.

Now, for a few examples of "You can play too."

* people who smoothly interject information about visual queues they've used
* wait staff who apologize for the lack of an accessible menu
* Braille or tactile markings on restroom doors
* offers to help find a ride for anyone needing one to an announced event
* pulling out a board game everyone can play without needing excessive help
* planning events in locations with ramps etc and noting it on flyers
* acknowledging lack of access indicating you have at least thought about it
* making requested accommodations that simply inconvenience you
including a disabled person by directing a comment or question to them
* people who provide what you need in the same manner they offer a guest a drink

4 comments:

Ruth said...

So glad I found your blog via brokenclay!

This post speaks volumes about experiences I've had as a person with a disability.

Jen said...

Ruth,
I'm always thrilled when I discover someone new is reading this blog. Getting the word out is more challenging to me than the actual writing.

Welcome aboard,
Jen

scott said...

Found you through BrokenClay also. I'm going to pass this post along!

Jen said...

Scott,
Always thrilled when somebody likes what I've written enough to pass it along. Thanks for reading.
Jen