In the face of endless promotions for weight loss and "New Year, New Me" goals, what if we took a kinder approach to how we started off the year. What if, instead of focusing on improving our bodies, we focused on improving life for other bodies?
For people living with chronic illness or disabilities, making resolutions can be another exhausting hurdle. Knowing we have others resolving to help us make 2023 more inclusive (and accessible!) is a gift that gives as much as it receives. Here are 5 simple ways you can start:
1. Make Your Home VisitAble or Choose Accessible Venues
Whether it's at home, a great coffee shop or a fun activity, being with friends or family can be the cure for winter blues. But for many living with disabilities, they may not be able to even make it through your front door. If your home isn't VisitAble (you can check out our 6 Ways to Make Your Home Wheelchair Accessible), then make sure to choose a restaurant or meet-up that is accessible for everyone. But please, don't leave it to your friends with disabilities to do the research. Check out the space in advance or call ahead for details. Some places may say they're "accessible" only to find the bathroom is in the basement. You can also check out a growing crowd-sourced app called AccessNow - & add your own reviews!
Bonus inclusion tip: even if you aren't meeting up with friends or fam that need an accessible space, make it a habit to support places that have designed their space for EVERYONE. If you're in a space that isn't inclusive, mention to the owner that this is important to you. Change starts with every small conversation!
2. Check The Ableism
We're all learning. We're all growing. (If you're not, this is the wrong blog & biz for you!). Ableism is discrimination or prejudice against those living with disabilities, with the belief that abled-bodies are somehow superior - or that disabled bodies need to be "fixed". Andrew Purlang (Forbes, 2020) poignantly adds to the definition as: "Social habits, practices, regulations, laws, and institutions that operate under the assumption that disabled people are inherently less capable overall, less valuable in society, and / or should have less personal autonomy than is ordinarily granted to people of the same age." It may often be unintentional, but ableism is as complex and damaging as sexism or racism; and dismantling these are a critical path towards true inclusion. One area to start, is thinking about the language we use every day. "Wheelchair-bound" is one to knock off the list, as many people see their wheelchair as offering freedom, not restriction. Try "wheelchair-user" instead. Check out some other examples here on ableist words and better examples we can all use.
3. Nothing About Us - Without Us
This has become a common principle that means people with disabilities are the experts in their lived experience. "It signifies the belief that disability rights should not be created without including the voices of persons with disabilities and their representative organizations" (Book, 2004). Inclusion is not only having a seat at the table, it is also the active contribution to ideas, administration and policy that can directly impact us. If you're in a position that makes decisions about another group of people, but no representation from that group is present - start asking questions! For example: if your workplace developing a policy on accommodations, make sure those who have required accommodations (if they're open to disclosing) are helping create this new policy. Putting on an inclusive event? Don't guess what could be needed for accessibility, involve individuals with access needs.
Even if the topic is not disability-centred, people living with disabilities will bring a different and valuable perspective to the table.
4. Believe Us.
Not all disabilities are visible.
Some disabilities require the use of mobility aids on one-day, and some days the person may be able to manage without them.
Being able to do *something* yesterday, does not mean someone with a disability or chronic illness will be able to do it on the next.
Disability does not have a LOOK (and telling someone they "don't look sick/disabled" is not a compliment).
If someone trusts you enough to disclose a disability or chronic illness, believe them. Learn about their disability or chronic illness on your own time.
5. Give Us Some Grace
Living with a disability or chronic illness isn't easy - and to be clear, it's not always because of the disability/chronic illness itself, but because of the inaccessibility, the exclusion, the barriers, the additional costs of living - and so on. It can take hours to book/plan simple transportation to work (the fight for Para Parity continues in Ottawa); medical appointments can take up a huge portion of our days, and fatigue can play a big role in whether we finally make it out or not to meet with friends (please keep inviting/including us, even if we say no 100 times!). It can also mean being behind on deadlines - or you know, posting a resolution blog a week late.
Give us some grace.