Saturday, May 1, 2010

In Which I Consider Questions of Accessibility and Disablism

Inspired by this post at Womanist Musings (which everyone should read because it's really awesome and thought-provoking, and also that's just a great blog in general), I spent this past week trying to think about issues of accessibility as I went about my daily life. And so in this post I’m going to talk a little about what it was like to be aware of the accessibility (or lack thereof) in the places I went, and then I’ll be talking about which buildings seemed pretty good, and which were seriously lacking. I decided to focus on accessibility for people with limited mobility, just because that seemed like the simplest thing for me, as a currently able bodied person, to look around and see (or not see, as the case may be).

The thing that stood out for me the most was how easy it was for me to forget that I was trying to notice accessibility in the places I went to. Why hello privilege, I almost didn’t see you, all camouflaged in the corner there! This experiment really forced me to confront how incredibly privileged I am, in that when I leave the house, I don’t have to think about which T stops I can use, or if the buildings I’m going to are accessible, or if I need to budget extra time and energy to go around old McDonald’s barn looking for accessible entrances and whatnot. I can just grab my stuff and go. If doing this for a week showed me one thing, it’s how much easier fitting society’s idea of “normal” or able bodied makes life. Which was something I’d always gotten intellectually, but never really had to think about or face up to in any serious way. So I hope to be much more aware of my own able-bodied privilege in my day to day life now.

And now, on to the ratings!

First stop:
Orient Heights T Station: This station is a little weird. If you go in the side that you’re getting the train on, everything’s fine. But if, say, your bus drops you off on the outbound side and you need to go to the inbound side, you’re in trouble. The only way to get from one to the other inside the station is via a set of stairs. If you can’t do stairs, you have 2 options: one, you can go up to the street and take the long way around to the other entrance. Or, you can ask the bus driver (or whoever) to drop you off on the side you need, instead of at the normal stop. I have seen bus drivers do this for people with baby carriages, so it’s probably not a huge problem, but still, it’s unfortunate that those are your only options.
Grade: C+ Not bad, but still more of a hassle for people with mobility issues than for those without.

Next Stop:
State Street T Station: Also weird. The orange line is fully accessible (elevators to both platforms). The blue line has an elevator on the outbound side, but not the inbound side. So if you’re headed inbound and want to get out at State, you have to go to the next stop, switch to the outbound train, and go back. Not a huge amount of extra time, but still seems like an unnecessary hassle. They are in the midst of renovating this station, so maybe this is something they plan to address--I’m not sure.
Grade: C+ Like Orient Heights, not completely inaccessible, but still adds some unnecessary time and inconvenience if you have mobility issues.

Third Stop:
College Building 1: Pretty good. No stairs to get in, the front doors have those push button automatic doors opener things (do those have an actual name?), and the elevators are a good size and I’ve never seen a line for them. The only place this building lost points was that the studio doors are absurdly heavy (everyone I’ve ever seen open one has struggled), which could be an issue for a lot of people. I’m not sure why they’re so heavy, but I assume it has something to do with muffling sound.
Grade: B+ Overall pretty good, but it’s too bad the studio doors have to be so ridiculous.

Fourth Stop:
College Building 2: Not bad, but not as good as College Building 1. There aren’t any stairs in, but there also aren’t any automatic door opener things. There are elevators, but they are tiny (they seem stuffed with 3 or 4 people in them) and there is almost always a huge line of people waiting to use them.
Grade: B. Not bad, could be better.

Fifth stop:
Boylston Street T Station: Completely inaccessible. No elevators and no escalator, only stairs.
Grade: F.

Final Stop:
Government Center Station: As the MBTA website says, “no accessible boarding features.” I must say, I’m surprised by the lack of accessibility in all of these downtown stations--being so central and heavily used, I would think they’d be better that way. Shows what I know (not much, apparently).
Grade: F.

And finally, before moving on, a quick accessibility fail story. A few weeks ago, I went with the boyfriend to the eye doctor. As we were leaving, I noticed that the entrance had a ramp (cool) which culminated in a 6 inch or so tall step to get into the building (not as cool). Seriously, who designed and built that without going "hmmm, this step at the top actually defeats the entire purpose of having a blasted ramp"? FAIL.

So now that I've finished my experiment, what next? Good question. I’m not sure what, practically, will come out of this for me. Like I said, I feel like I’m now more aware of accessibility issues, and that will definitely affect my teaching in a positive way, because I’ll be more aware of what I can do to even things out, both in terms of my classroom teaching and things like school performances and the like. But as far as what concrete things I’ll be doing next? I’m still working that one out.


  1. I think this is an exercise definitely worth undertaking. I note what you say about picking mobility impairments to look at first because it's easier to see, but it's worth noting that not all disability access means ramps and lifts, etc. And it's worth trying to notice the things that are less obvious precisely because they are less obvious.

    A lot of access, especially in teaching contexts, means having teaching materials that are available to students in formats that are useful for them. These teachability issues are biggies too. If you're interested in teachability, maybe check out the Teachability Project at Strathclyde University (although it's UK-focused).


  2. Thanks so much for that link, I will definitely be checking that out! Even though I have taken classes on teaching exceptional students, I still feel like teachability is something I need a lot more education on, so that's something I'm always excited to see resources on.

  3. I agree this is an interesting exercise (also makes for an entertaining post), and one we might all try. Since I am now involved in caring for a mother-in-law in her eighties and am approaching retirement age myself, I would also point out that even those of us who are accustomed to being able-bodied may well develop accessibility needs as time goes by.

  4. I think we can all do with more awareness-raising on different disabilities. There's a general tendency for people to assume that all disabled people need the same things, or that disability always means the same thing in every disabled person, but in fact "disability" covers a very wide spectrum of needs. I have a mobility impairment, and I'm still constantly surprised by how little I know about, for example, certain specific learning conditions like dyspraxia, or certain visual impairments.