THE A-E-I-O-U’S OF ACCESSIBILITY — Y IS FOR YES!

It’s here at last, the final instalment in the series, The A-E-I-O-U’s of Accessibility! It’s bittersweet reaching this point, but more than a sadness at seeing this series come to an end, I’m excited to see where we take it going forward in our lives. I, as much as anyone else, have so much to learn, so much to explore, and I for one, am so excited!

A, E, I, O, U and sometimes Y… isn’t that the rhyme we’ve been taught when learning our alphabet? Y’s place on the list of vowels is questionable, but on this list, there’s no argument.

Why.

Because…

Y is for Yes!

I’m not a natural adventurer. I’ve grown into this aspect of my personality and primarily, it’s come through practice and repetition. When faced with “hey Rhianna, do you want to go [camping, spelunking, skydiving, etc, you can fill in the blank], my instinctual response is to say no in favour of staying securely within my comfort zone at home with a cup of coffee, my guide dog and the familiarity of my surroundings.

But I’m learning to say yes. Not always to adventures of the outdoor variety because to be frank, I don’t believe I’ll ever enjoy them. One needs only to ask my ex-boyfriend to find out how grumpy I am on camping trips. But in non-outdoor environments, ones that are designed to grow me as a person and expand the limited perspective I’ve become accustomed to from living inside Rhianna’s brain for 26 years, I’m learning to say yes.

So, when the conversation turns to accessibility, I’m learning to always say yes.

Recently, I was asked if I thought the perception around disability and disabled people in society was improving. Yes, I said, when it came to physical accessibility and the ways in which we can accommodate different bodies; more buildings have wheelchair ramps, there’s more education and resources available on adaptive equipment and the creation of those devices are becoming more widely known and recognized in the non-disabled community.

But I also said no, I didn’t believe it was improving in the places where it counts the most–in the hearts of the people we love and do life with.

When I’m being “helped” across the street against my will, I do not feel trusted as an individual, capable of making safe decisions. When I’m denied access to establishments because I work with a guide dog, I feel discriminated against because of a tool that gives me independence in a way I’ve never had before and that many people take for granted. When a disabled person is praised and viewed as inspiring for being able to use a microwave, we are belittled. When our disabilities make able-bodied people thankful that they aren’t like us, we are pushed to the margins of society.

Until our disabilities are seen as an asset, until we are treated as people, until we are valued as equal members of society and not pushed to the sidelines, we have not grasped the true meaning of acceptance, love and equality.

there is so much work still to be done. And the best way to do this is to say yes.

But how, Rhianna? What do we say yes to? Oh, I’m so glad you asked!

  • Say yes to making the lives of disabled people as fulfilling and lifegiving as possible.
  • Say yes when disabled people need you to cheer them on in the fight against ableism and discrimination.
  • Say yes, I trust you, when disabled people tell you they don’t need help.
  • Say yes, I’ll help you, when a disabled person does reach out for help.
  • Say yes to seeing people with disabilities as people and not broken objects in need of fixing.
  • Say yes to being our allies and not our enemies.
  • Say yes, I see you for you and not what is or is not on the outside.

We are people. And people deserving of the same human dignity, value and love that every human deserves.

But we also have disabilities, and those parts of us are just as valuable, just as worthy and just as in need of love and equality as any other.

Come with me and let’s work to create a world of accessibility, equality, trust and care for every person in it. Because when we make the world a better place for one person, it becomes a better place for everyone.

Well? What do you say?

THE A-E-I-O-U’S OF ACCESSIBILITY — U IS FOR UNITE

Welcome back to The A-E-I-O-U’s of Accessibility, with our fifth post, U Is For Unite.

Unity is a word that I thought existed purely within the confines of a church. Growing up in a Christian household, I heard verses like Colossians 3:14: “And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony,” I Corinthians 1:10: “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment,” and Philippians 2:2 which says “complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” spoken in sermons and Bible studies, and I presumed that it was only a “Christianese” term, or religious jargon.

As a Christian, these verses hold a very special place in my life and in my faith journey. But I’m learning that what I thought of as “church words” have meaning outside of Sunday mornings, too.

Unity is one of those words. And it fits perfectly into the conversation of accessibility and disability equality.

Unite For One Goal

Pop quiz! (Don’t worry, I’m not actually grading you).

What is the goal that this series is trying to achieve?

If you said accessibility, you get a half point. No, you’re not wrong—it’s in the title, after all! But there’s a vital component that’s missing which can fill in the blank and help us gain a fuller picture of how to reach for and achieve accessibility.

This series was born out of and exists to explore ways we as a society can be more accessible, both in a physical context and in our attitudes and beliefs about disability and the people living with disabilities. It’s designed to lay a foundation upon which we can build a more accessible world in which disabled people are valued, prioritized and held as equal.

It hopes to encourage all people, able-bodied and disabled alike, to work together, bring together each person’s unique contributions in pursuit of making our world more accessible for all the people who live in it. Because when the abilities, skills, talents and passions of people come together, working toward a single, unified goal, I believe so much more can be accomplished.

Remember, if you can [I’ve tried to block it out, to be honest] when you were asked to work on a project as part of a team. These encounters were at best frustrating, and at worst, infuriating, in part perhaps because of who I was partnered with but more so because of how divisive the group usually became; one member would work harder than others, one would be late getting their portion in, and the final project would be the opposite of a cohesive team effort. At least I hope your experiences haven’t been like many of mine. But regardless, we’ve all been there.

And whether it turned out positively or negatively, it makes a point that can’t be ignored or undervalued when trying to create an accessible and inclusive world, and it’s the one, undeniable condition that holds us back from reaching it:

We need to work together to make it happen.

Unite As One People

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. / If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. / And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. / If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? / But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. / If all were a single member, where would the body be? / As it is, there are many parts, / yet one body. / The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” / On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, / and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, / which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, / that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. / If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” — I Corinthians 12:14-26

The Apostle Paul wrote these words two thousand years ago, yet, it amazes me how every verse in the Bible can apply to life today in 2022.

Some may find it a bit ironic, but I find it entirely fitting to use a body as the image of unity to talk about people with disabilities.

The body is the perfect image for how people need to come together to achieve accessibility, equality and inclusion. Able-bodied, disabled, people of all different backgrounds and experiences, need to come together and bring their unique gifts and abilities.

I wrote a poem as a teenager which is too cringy to post here, but it was inspired by the Bible passage above. Called “I’m a Hand, What Are You?” I likened myself to a hand because of my skill with the written word, and I asked my readers [who I believe have only ever been my parents], what part you see yourself as and what you bring to the body.

And I’m going to ask the same question now: What do you bring to the fight for accessibility and equality?

Disabled people are still fighting for accessibility and equality in 2022, which means there is clearly something missing. It isn’t that we are incapable or dependent on others, not because of our disabilities, but simply because we are human.

Humans were created to need each other. We were never meant to be alone. That’s why we crave community, friendships, relationships and connection so deeply. It’s a human need that is in each and every one of us, and with so many things that divide us, this is one thing that humans everywhere can understand and share.

More than asking for physical accommodations, we’re asking for relationship. We need allies, people who see our value and are willing to step out of their comfort zones and fight alongside us.

Of course, our goal is to increase accessibility in our communities for people with all kinds of disabilities, but we are also striving to change the attitudes around disability. Don’t you see? The one leads into the other: when people believe disabled people are worth it, making the world accessible for them becomes a value and not an inconvenience or an accommodation.

But this doesn’t mean that there won’t be challenges. It also is not a guarantee of reaching the goal: after all, we are only humans, and humans are immensely flawed creatures, and even working together does not guarantee success. (The Tower of Babel, anyone?] Because really, what do you get when you put a bunch of imperfect humans together?

Life.

Not exactly the best punch line, but true nonetheless.

But challenges and all, I believe the fight is worth it and I believe we can accomplish great things if we work together. I don’t write to further divide able-bodied people from people with disabilities; we are all people, and my deepest hope and passion is to work to close that divide.

But I am only one person and one voice in the fight. Will you help? Will you be an ally and fight for equality with us?

And in the words of a teenaged Rhianna:

“We all have different parts to play
It’s what God wants us to do.
But still one question I have now:
I’m a hand, what are you?”

[CRINGE!]

Well, my friends, there’s one more post in our series. Stay tuned to find out what Y is all about!

THE A-E-I-O-U’S OF ACCESSIBILITY — O IS FOR OPEN

Welcome, friends, to the fourth post in our series, The A-E-I-O-U’s of Accessibility. Today, I want to share some thoughts with you about what I believe is the key to making the accessible, equal and safe world I dream about into a reality. Let’s chat about change.

Change is not easy. Sometimes, it can be downright terrifying. Even positive changes, like going to college, moving to a new city, getting a job, or starting a family, can be scary as well as exciting.

I held onto my childhood pajamas until they were so threadbare and see-through that my parents had to throw them away without my consent. I was so attached to the blanket I’d had since I was three that I wouldn’t go to college overseas without it [and still won’t sleep without it]. I cried when my mother cut her hair in a different style because I was scared to lose the mother I’d been able to see before I became blind.

But I had to make those changes. And do you know what I found out? Those changes weren’t as scary as I thought. They helped me grow into a better person … and my mom was the same, beautiful, loving mom she’d been before.

It’s the same way with growing and changing your perspective. It’s not about losing who you are, but making room for new things to come in and shape you into a better person.

It can be scary. Very scary sometimes.

But it’s worth it.

But no one can change if they aren’t open to change.

Open The Box

I’ll wager that every person reading this post has, at some point in their life, been told to “think outside the box.”

It’s pretty straightforward, right? It means to think creatively, freely, without limitations, to find solutions to problems that are outside the realm of tradition.

But is it really so straightforward?

Before you answer, I have three questions for you to consider when telling, or being told to think outside the box:

  • What box are you in?
  • What else is in the box with you?
  • And what will it take for you to get out?

As hard as it is to reconcile, our pro-equality, pro-rights society has continued to this day to put people with disabilities in a box. This box has been affixed with different labels at different times; “dependent,” “helpless,” “incapable” “burden,” and “inferior” are a few that come to mind that have been taped to my personal box.

When I’m passed over for a job by someone who is less qualified than I am, but isn’t disabled, my box says, inferior.

When I have to ask friends for rides to events outside of public transit areas, I wear the label burden and worry that they’ll resent me for being needy.

When I am forced into accepting help with a task that I am fully capable of doing on my own, my box says, helpless.

It seems that no matter what I do, my box has a label on it that tells the world I’m disabled and here’s what to do with me.

But I believe there’s another group of people who are in a box, too.

Able-bodied people.

Yes. Able-bodied people.

People who are not disabled.

Their box may not wear the same labels as those with disabilities. And it isn’t up to me to write their labels for them.

But I do have my suspicions. And what I suspect is that people put others in a box because they themselves are in one.

Hands up if you’ve heard the expression, “Hurt people hurt people.” It means that when someone is hurt, they may act in a way that hurts others, even people they love. Maybe we could adapt it. How about:

Boxed people box other people.

Remember the three questions I posed earlier? I want to take a moment and go through them, not to give you the answers, but to help you find the answers for yourself.

What Box Are You In?

Everyone’s box is unique, constructed from a combination of familial influence, experience, choices and a host of other factors. The answer to the question of what box you’re in will depend on your upbringing, your personal experiences, and how those experiences have shaped your worldview, and how you choose to live out your life day to day.

What Is In The Box With You?

Is it a need to feel superior? Is it a need for self-preservation?

Is it fear? Are you afraid that your world view and your place in it will be threatened by allying yourself with people who are different from you?

Maybe it’s pride.

Now hear me out before you click over to another blog.
Everyone has pride, and pride in who you are and what you do is a great thing. But it can be our downfall if we’re not careful; sometimes, pride can tell us that we’re above others who have less, do less, or appear less due to individual circumstances. And sometimes that can make us distant, hesitant to associate, or fearful of the results if we do.

What Will It Take For You To Get Out?

This will be up to you and your box.

All I can do is encourage you to explore a means of escape. Therapists and trained professionals are always a recommendation of mine. The therapist I’ve been seeing for five years has held my hands as I’ve struggled out of countless boxes. It may be an option for you, too.

Or maybe you need a friend.

But no matter what path you take out of the box, I believe the key is being open and willing to go.

Let people help you. Let people teach you. Let others take your hand and guide you. Let those who care about you come alongside you and encourage you every step of the way.

I believe that this is the way forward. To create that accessible world that I, and every other disabled person dream of living in, we have to not only think outside the box, but ditch the box altogether.

Open The Dialogue

But Rhianna, how do we do all this? It’s hard enough to get out of the box, let alone get rid of the entire box.

Yes, it is hard. And in no way do I expect you to do this alone, immediately or without mistakes. That isn’t possible, nor is it right of me to put those demands on anyone. So let me offer one, crucial way for you to get started.

Open the dialogue.

Start the conversation.

And see it through.

Talk to people with disabilities and listen to their stories and experiences. Ask them how they feel. If they tell you about the challenges they face, ask what would be helpful, or not helpful? What would they appreciate able-bodied people doing (or not doing) in interactions with them or in situations like employment, relationships, education, etc?

Talk to them. Talk to us.

Disabled people are the only people who know what it’s like to be disabled. Go to the source and get it straight from those who live it day in and day out.

By this time in the series, I may sound like a broken record to you. Ask, explore, include, and now open, they all lead back to the same, founding principle: people with disabilities are people and deserve the equality, rights, and dignity of every human being.

But I’m not just going to let the record play out.

I’m putting it on repeat.

Change is the only way forward. And being open to that change is the crux.

It’s often said that you can’t help people who don’t want to be helped. It’s true: As much as family and friends encouraged me to seek out mental health counseling and medication, I had to come to that decision on my own and in my own time; for years, I didn’t want to be helped and so I couldn’t be.

I was in a box.

And as soon as I realized it, and felt the effects of the claustrophobic space I’d created for myself, I did something about it. I got myself to counseling and began taking antidepressants.

It took a long time, and hundreds of sessions of therapy (yes, really) before I could see the progress I was making. But I had to be willing to take the steps to make that change.

I had conversations, sometimes hard and hurtful conversations, with friends, family and my therapist. I still have these conversations. But because I knew these people loved me and cared for my well being, I pressed on.

And those dialogues changed my life.

And the dialogues we have about disability will change our lives, too.

But it has to start with being open and willing to have those conversations and the change that will result from them. It will hurt. It will be uncomfortable, and may even cause some pain.

But I’d like to think that you’ll believe it’s worth it.


How can you help to open the box, step outside of it, and close it behind you?

Be sure to check back soon for the next installment! See you there.

THE A-E-I-O-U’S OF ACCESSIBILITY — I IS FOR INCLUDE

Welcome to the third installment of The A-E-I-O-U’s of Accessibility. Today, I wanted to take a few minutes to chat with you about disability and inclusion.

Inclusion is one of those words that, when used too often, starts to lose its true meaning. It’s a little like love—it amazes me how I can say I love my fiancé with the same word I use to describe my feeling towards mint chocolate ice cream. After a while, if we let it, we lose the meaning and understanding of what love is.

And in looking at the world around me and the society I live in that prioritizes things like inclusion, tolerance and equality, I have to wonder if inclusion is starting to lose its impact, too.

But let’s take a step back. What, exactly, is inclusion? And how does inclusion relate to this series’ mission of helping able-bodied people to become allies with people with disabilities?

Include Accessibility in the Foundation

According to Merriam-Webster, include is defined as: “to take in or comprise as a part of a whole or group.”

Did you catch that?

“To take in or comprise as a part of a whole or group.”

Inclusion is not an afterthought. It’s part of the foundation.

While I was in university, I took several literature classes in which my instructors frequented the use of PowerPoint presentations in their lectures. While this didn’t pose a problem as a whole, the images were a challenge (for obvious reasons). In one particular class, to ensure that I didn’t miss out on any of the material, my instructor took it upon themselves to describe each image in their presentation in excruciatingly, vivid detail.

I sat at the front, scrunching down in my chair and wishing for Alice’s ‘drink me’ potion to make me shrink. You could feel it in the room; everyone knew that our instructor was describing the images just for me. And it was awkward.

I applaud my professor for making an effort to be inclusive. What I critique is their method.

I hope that we can all agree that chocolate chip cookies taste more delicious when the chocolate chips are baked into the dough and not merely dropped on top as decoration. When they are an essential ingredient in the making of the dessert, they cannot be added later and yield the same, yummy result.

Accessibility inclusion needs to be given the same treatment. It doesn’t function the way it ought to if it exists as an afterthought. For it to be effective at creating an inclusive experience for people of all abilities, it needs to be at the forefront.

So rather than add awkward, last-minute descriptions for the images in a PowerPoint, write an image description directly in the presentation so that it’s part of the presentation from the start. In doing this, you’ll let us know that you were valuing accessibility inclusion all along, and not simply scrambling to make it work when a disabled student shows up in your class.

Include Disabled People in the Discussion

But there’s a condition when it comes to being inclusive of the disabled community that can’t be overlooked.

Remember how accessibility is like the chocolate chips?

Disabled people are the cookies.

But, let’s look at this from another angle.

How do you think it would go if a cat tried to teach a bird how to fly. “No, not like that. Do it this way.”

What? Am I crazy? Maybe.

But maybe I’m eluding to a thread that is woven into the fabric of our society that frankly, needs to be cut out entirely.

I’m sorry to be blunt, [but what else is new, right?] Non-disabled people are very fond of telling disabled people how to handle their disabilities, without having any felt experience or knowledge of what it’s like to live with a disability.

And it needs to stop.

It happens in practical situations, when assistive technology organizations run by non-disabled people claim to know what equipment will best fit our individual needs, though we definitively tell them otherwise.

It happens in everyday conversations, when a disabled person is told not to be entitled when requesting accommodations to make something accessible.

It happens on a societal level, when changes are brought in that directly impact the lives of people with disabilities, but those people aren’t consulted or asked if the changes would even be of help.

A cat cannot teach a bird to fly since the cat itself cannot fly.

And a non-disabled person, well-meaning though they may be, cannot tell a disabled person how to best handle challenges that come with their disability because they themselves are not disabled.

Now, this isn’t to say that non-disabled people cannot offer suggestions, raise concerns or questions, or contribute in the greater discussion around disability and inclusion. It doesn’t mean that disabled people are never asked for their opinions, views or feedback on accessibility features or projects. It doesn’t mean that every non-disabled person is doing it wrong.

But what it does mean is that the voices of those in the disability community need to be the ones we go to first. We need to hear them out because issues of accessibility and equality directly impact their lives more than any other. We need them to explain what is helpful and what isn’t, and believe them when they do.

In the apartment building without an elevator, it isn’t the able-bodied person that will be most impacted if the elevator isn’t put in—it’s the person who uses a wheelchair, or the person with chronic fatigue syndrome, or the people with any number of conditions for whom elevators are essential to ensuring accessibility, equality and inclusion.

This is why the world needs to include the people who live with disabilities in the discussion from the get-go. We need to listen to their perspectives, validate their experiences and work to formulate a society that values inclusion as an essential aspect of our lives.

Because inclusion is a value, not about the practical considerations of buildings or university lectures, but a statement about the value of the people it impacts.


Chocolate chip cookies and cats… a post of widely varying analogies, but I hope you grasped my meaning.

Being inclusive isn’t a matter of simply not being left out. It’s a part of the foundation of the world we live in, or, to be more precise, the world I want to live in.

How have you seen people, businesses, and the world around you, be inclusive of people with disabilities? What have they done well? How could they improve? Let me know in the comments.

Be sure to stick around for the next post in the series!