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Are You Accessible?*

by Rachel Chapman, Christian Fellowship Congregational Church, UCC                                                                              

     Although I have physical challenges, I take issue with words like “disabled” and “handicapped,” terms society has laden with negative connotations.  Because I believe we are all able, just in different ways, I prefer “differently abled.”

     Another word that comes up a lot is “accessible.” What does that really mean?
According to the dictionary it means easy to approach, reach, enter, or speak with.   What does it mean to you?  Even before my mobility challenges, I would like to think I had always been aware of and sensitive to such matters; however, I have had experiences I never would have thought of.  For example, I recently went to a meeting in a state government building to discuss emergency preparedness and evacuations for people with physical, mental, or emotional impairment, should a disaster occur in our county. Representatives from various non-governmental agencies were invited to participate in the meeting.  To me, a logical assumption would be that the location chosen for the meeting would be “accessible.”  Not so.  Not only were the front doors of the building not automatic, but the officers operating the metal detectors near the doors made no effort to assist anyone entering.

     Have you ever wondered who decides what is accessible? Do you think the decision makers consult those impacted?  How many times have you gone to a restaurant or store and noticed the handicap parking spaces are farther from the door than regular ones? And what about the places that display an accessible placard on their door yet the doors are not automated? Have you noticed that the accessible stall in most public restrooms is farthest from the door?  I can go on and on with more examples but in reality I know that we generally do not notice or focus on things that do not directly impact us.

     Did you know the second Sunday in October was Access Sunday and the beginning of Disability Awareness Week in the United Church of Christ?  Did your congregation celebrate or at least acknowledge it? Have you ever looked around your church with an observant eye to notice any obstacles that might hinder a differently abled person from worshipping with you?  Remember, not all challenges are visible.

     I recognize that my physical limitations cause me to look at all things differently than I did before. As I reflect on the words and the situations, I can’t help but look inward.  I’ve been changed by a chronic illness.  I’ve been affected by attitudes of others toward people who are differently abled and the obstacles that are consciously and unconsciously placed before us.  What am I going to do about it?  I choose to be accessible.  Rather than being negative and angry, I hope I am approachable.  Don’t get me wrong; I get frustrated by those obstacles and the lack of care and concern that seem to accompany them.  I choose to focus on education and change.  Change can only come through dialogue and dialogue can only happen if those of us who are most impacted are easy to talk to…approachable…accessible.   Are you accessible?

*Adapted from “Differently Abled,” Rachel Chapman’s blog on the UCC.org website

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