ON ACCESSIBILITY — IT’S JUST THE RIGHT THING TO DO

Accessibility is near and dear to the hearts of many a person with a disability.

Why?

Because for me, it’s how the world tells me, “Hey Rhianna, we value you. You are important. We value your contributions to society as a person, and we want you to know that you matter.”

But unfortunately, this isn’t always the message that I receive.

Let me tell you a story to illustrate this:

After moving to a new city in early 2021, I was in search of a family doctor. I happened upon one practice in my neighbourhood and they had an application for prospective patients to complete. When I called the clinic to enquire if they had an electronic version that they could send to me, the receptionist rudely informed me that the application is only available in hard copy print and in no way could they provide an alternative format. My only option was to have a sighted friend fill it out for me. Having no other choice, I did just that.
My landlady picked up the form, and before leaving the office, asked that same receptionist about their policy of no electronic documents.
“We cannot provide electronic forms due to the possibility that someone may copy it for their own purposes,” came the clipped reply.
“Like they can’t do that with a photocopier,” my landlady said as she walked out with the printed application.
Needless to say, I never returned the form to that practice, resolving to find one that prioritized their patients’ needs above their convenience.

Yes—I said convenience. Because the truth is that it is often more a matter of convenience rather than an inability to accommodate.

The Covid-19 pandemic is a perfect example. When it became unsafe to attend medical appointments in person, and appointments went to virtual platforms, I breathed a tentative sigh of relief. On one hand, previously inconvenient obligations were now made easier and more accessible as I didn’t have to arrange rides to and from the clinics, spend money for the time and transportation, and I was able to handle my affairs independently. But on the other hand, a question was niggling at me, and the friends in whom I confided in, were also wrestling with this question.

Why did the change that disabled people had been lobbying for only come about when it became an inconvenience for the able-bodied? How come, when the world was thrown into unprecedented chaos, could we so quickly adapt to alternative means of living, yet, it was too inconvenient or “not available at this time” when a disable person asked for it before?

Was the voice of the non-disabled truly that much more valued than that of the disabled?

Let me tell you another story, thankfully one with a happier ending. I do not want this post to be all doom-and-gloom because there are people and businesses out there that do prioritize accessibility and the people who live with disabilities. It’s just sadly, the rarity.

It was November 2020, and I was sitting on the guest bed at a friend’s house, dialing the number for the walk-in clinic to ask for a prescription for antidepressant medication. When the receptionist answered, I launched into my explanation, undoubtedly a defensive tone to my voice: “I’m calling because I’m fully blind and use a screenreader on my laptop, but I wasn’t able to do the booking online as you requested. But I really need this medication for my depression and I was wondering if I could book a doctor’s appointment through you, please?” I waited, a bundle of nerves in the bottom of my belly.
“Of course. I’m sorry that the website was not accessible for you. Let me connect you with one of our nurses who will help you complete the mental health questionnaire for the doctor.”
I was astounded. Did they just accommodate my blindness without so much as a blink? I wasn’t reprimanded for going against their written request to book online only. I never once felt like a waste of time, or an inconvenience. I was heard, accepted, and treated like a valued individual.

How different are those two experiences? Where one wasn’t willing to think outside the box and offer their best service to a potential patient, the other was willing to recognize where their system was lacking and remedy that the best they could in the interest of getting me the help I needed. Where I felt excluded and devalued by the first practice, the second overwhelmed me; they cared about me, and I don’t know if any able-bodied person can truly understand how amazing this feeling is.

The problem is that it shouldn’t feel amazing. It should feel normal.

That’s what it comes down to. Accessibility is more than a laundry list of physical adaptations to be made in order to appease the disabled person. It’s making the world accessible for every person that lives in it, ensuring we know that you see us as valuable and equal.
But I would be remiss if I didn’t offer a few suggestions for those physical accommodations I mentioned, as, making a space, digital or physical, a welcoming and inclusive one for all, is a vital part in the wellbeing of
Let’s consider a few scenarios and how you can work to improve:

• Your website isn’t accessible for screenreader users? Hire an accessibility tester to offer feedback on ways you can improve.

• Are your virtual presentations audio-only? Provide closed captions for those that may be hard-of-hearing.

• Do you post lots of photos on your social media? Write an alt text [alternate text] description of the photo so that your visually impaired followers know what the photo is.

• Do your clients need to complete forms or paperwork for your services? Offer them the option to fill it out online or in an electronic document so that their personal information (like medical records, and identification) can be disclosed privately without a third-party.

There are countless ways to be more inclusive and accessible to someone with a disability, and so often, it’s simple and easy to incorporate into your business plan or process.
But the simplest, and best, thing to do for accessibility?

Ask.

If you want to know if your business is accessible, reach out to the disability community for input. Trust me: we won’t berate you for not already being accessible; we’re just grateful that you value us enough as people and as consumers to make your business accessible for us.

This article, “7 Reasons Accessibility is Good for Business” sums it up well in their 7th point: “The previous 6 reasons all amount to one main one: building sites and apps that are accessible is just the right thing to do! Just like you would hold open the door for your elderly neighbor who has trouble walking, you’d want to extend that same courtesy to everyone who wishes to enter your digital environment.
And this doesn’t even have to be for ethical/moral reasons – even if business outcomes are your number one priority, you’d naturally want as many users and/or customers as possible. Preventing people from purchasing your products or using your services would be the near equivalent of shooting yourself in the foot.”

I am a person who, day in and day out, lives on the cusp of accessibility; every time I visit a website, download an app, or walk through the door of a brick-and-mortar store, I don’t know if I’ll be facing a welcoming and accommodating space, or one where I have to fight for what the able-bodied take for granted. When I visit a doctor’s office, will I be able to independently fill out my medical information or be subjected to share it with a third-party because they only have a printed form? Will the cashier at Walmart address me as my own person, or direct all conversation to the able-bodied friend that I’m shopping with because they don’t realize that I’m 25 and don’t need someone to speak for me?

Accessibility isn’t an inconvenience. It’s a necessity. Don’t do it just because I’m asking you to. Do it because it’s the right thing to do. Do it to show that you love and value your disabled friends and neighbours.

Do it to make this world a better one for all of us.

DISABLED PEOPLE AREN’T MADE OF SUGAR — WE WON’T MELT IN YOUR PRAISE

Raise your hand if you’ve ever been told, “You’re not made of sugar, you won’t melt” and sent out into the pouring rain.
I have… looking at you, Mama! But you know what? Cover your ears Mom… but she was right. We won’t melt. I have never once melted from excessive moisture or soaked-sock syndrome.

The same goes for people with disabilities and the praise we often receive for just… living.

I’m sorry to burst your bubble, able-bodied reader of mine, but compliments regarding a disabled person’s ability to carry out simple daily living tasks are not flattering; they’re belittling.

In my eighteen years of blindness, I’ve been praised for almost everything. Some of the more notable examples are being praised for my ability to walk up a set of stairs, knowing the names of the streets in my neighbourhood and being capable of using a microwave without assistance, and all of these as a twenty-something woman. So yes, I am referring to praise for the simple acts of living a normal life—cooking, taking transit, getting dressed, putting on make up, using the Internet, etc. Think of something normal that able-bodied people wouldn’t think twice about and I can bet you that we’ve been praised for it.

Let me make this clear:
These are not compliments.

This is empty praise. It’s meant to bolster our confidence and flatter, to encourage and give us a pat on the back. We’re supposed to be honoured, to feel grateful and flattered that you noticed our achievements. So often, I hear that the able-bodied person is just being nice and that they have the best intentions with these comments, which may be true; I’m not the judge of someone else’s motive.

But when one of these “compliments” comes my way, I feel a lot of things… and flattered is at the bottom of the list.
You need to know the truth.

I feel small.

I feel patronized.

I fear that everything I do will always be viewed through the lens of my disability and what able-bodied society deems to be praise-worthy and what isn’t.

And a question always arises that I’ve never found an answer for: Do people truly believe that my life is so bad that I need the simplest things to be celebrated to make it worthwhile?

But let’s take a step back for a minute and get comfy. It’s story time!

THE ONE WHO WAS AMAZED

I met Mac in the summer of 2020 when I plucked up my extrovert courage and walked into yet another young adults group at a local church. My friend and I had been searching for a community like this for a few months and I was getting utterly exhausted. The emotional strain of putting myself out there, enduring not only the standard small talk of a new social circle but the inevitable questions about my blindness and my guide dog that I knew would come was wearing me out.

The first meeting went very well without incident, and the second was encouraging. I got the questions about how much vision I had and how long I’d had my pup, but those were to be expected. I was starting to hope that I was becoming more part of the group and less of the blind girl.
Until the third week when Mac walked up to introduce himself. And it wasn’t long until it started… and wouldn’t stop.

Mac: So, you can use a microwave?
Rhi: Oh for sure! I put tactile dots on the buttons so I can tell what’s what, and from there, it’s easy. I do the same thing for my oven and my other kitchen appliances.
Mac: So, wait. You can cook?
Rhi: Totally, I love cooking. You just have to make some adaptations and then blind people can totally do it, just like everyone else.
Mac: Wow… just, wow. That’s so amazing!

No matter how I tried to redirect our conversation to something other than my disability, Mac steered us right back. My best friend, who witnessed the exchange, described his expression to me later as “a faraway, dazed expression of pure awe and amazement.” Needless to say, when we got home that night, I needed to vent a little steam.

I was the blind girl again.
Maybe that’s all I was.

I was more than my blindness, wasn’t I? That’s what my family said. That’s what my therapist said. That’s what God said… right? I was a daughter, a friend, writer, and lover of espresso milkshakes. That counted for something, didn’t it?

But when none of the rest of who I was mattered to Mac, I couldn’t help but question what I’d been taught about myself.

What Mac didn’t know was that just a few hours earlier that afternoon, I had sat on my couch, writing out a list of posts for my new blog. “I’m going to do it,” I told my guide dog, Cricket. “I don’t care if they only know me as the blind girl. I’m going to start a blog and do what I love.” The peace that I felt was indescribable—it was like coming home.

I would write, no matter what.

But when I met Mac, my resolve was completely undone. If I was only ever going to be seen as the blind girl, then why write when everything I say would be filtered through my blindness? Would anything I say concerning anything outside of my disability even be heard?

My peace was stolen from me. And I watched it go.

Trade in Your Praise for Puddles

What I should have done is tell Mac what I’m about to tell you:

Stop! And just listen.

My blindness has shaped me in more ways than I even realize today. It’s a big part of my story and a part that I will never deny or diminish. Jennifer Rothschild said: “My blindness doesn’t define me. It refines me.” [My apologies, I couldn’t find the source of this quote as I don’t have access to all her books in accessible formats. Remind me to rant about that later].
My blindness doesn’t define me, but it refines me. I just love that. Don’t you?

But when I, as a disabled person, receive compliments for doing the things I need to do to live, it becomes the thing that defines me. My disability becomes the central force around which my existence revolves.

That’s not how I want to live.
But you’ll have to help me.

Stop paying me compliments for living in spite of my blindness. I do not cope with my blindness. I do not suffer from my blindness.

I am not my blindness.

Will you help me?

Will you help us?

I know that you mean well. But it isn’t enough. Stop and look. See us. See us for who we are and not what our bodies can and can’t do. Stop praising us for things that you wouldn’t compliment your fellow able-bodied comrade for, and look deeper. We’re human beings with stories of our own to share and voices to tell them.

So rather than expecting us to melt beneath the warmth of your praise, just take our hands and jump in the puddles with us instead.

Come on, I can’t be the only 24-year-old who still does that, right?

THE CASE OF THE DISABLED CHRISTIAN, PART TWO: “ALL TO THE GLORY OF GOD.”

NOTE: Read THE CASE OF THE DISABLED CHRISTIAN, PART ONE: SHOULD WE PRAY FOR HEALING?” here.

Do I Want to Be Healed?

THE CASE OF THE DISABLED CHRISTIAN, PART ONE: SHOULD WE PRAY FOR HEALING? In part one, I promised you an easy answer to this question, so here it is:

Do I want to be healed?

No.

I do not want to be healed. Nor do I believe that I need to be healed. For the quality of life crowd, let me assure you that while I have my struggles like everyone, I have a wonderful life, blindness and all. I live within walking distance of a gorgeous beach. I have a family that loves me unconditionally, a supportive and inclusive church community, friends that uplift and encourage me, and I have my independence. I see nothing missing from this beautiful picture.
While sitting at the beach last week with a friend, looking out at the waves, I said, “I couldn’t enjoy this any more if I were sighted.” And I meant it.

But what of my relationship with God? It hasn’t always been this way. When I first became blind, I prayed for healing. My family prayed for healing. And that wasn’t wrong. When I prayed for physical healing last, I was eighteen and sitting on the window ledge of my second-story college dorm room. I had a nudge in my heart and I listened. Maybe there’ll come a time that I’ll ask again in the future, but only if the Lord leads me to it. I choose to believe, and be content with where God has placed me in this world. And that brings me to my final thought, and the most important lesson I’ve learned.

It’s About God, Not Me

In my last post, I said that we don’t know how to hold both a loving God and a disability together.

This is how:

By realizing that having a disability changes our lives, but it doesn’t change God.

The question of whether I’m blind for the rest of my life or if God restores my sight is irrelevant to the bigger picture.
It’s about God, not me. He is still who He has always been and always will be—a God of love, grace, justice and the savior of my soul. I am here on this earth to serve and glorify God, not the other way around. By no means has this been easy, and I struggle with this truth every moment of my life; my sinful nature persuades me that I’m the center of the world and even God is subject to my wishes. I get upset when He doesn’t answer prayers the way that I think is best, and my faith wavers when I don’t feel His presence the way that I hear worship leaders and christian authors describe. But the truth doesn’t change.

God doesn’t change.

The question of healing has been one that I’ve had to grapple with for as long as I’ve been blind. People are always curious about my answer, and even more so when they hear that my answer is no. I’ve given my reasons to family, to friends and to total strangers. But it took many years, lots of tears and constant wrestling with God to come to the conclusion that I have.

If it is God’s will to heal me, then may I be healed. But it will have to come from Him, not me. My healing must be part of His plan to bring glory to Him in my life. But for now, as I write this looking out the window at the beautiful ocean, I believe strongly in my spirit that I am firmly in the center of God’s will. I can see the blessings and the growth and the beauty that my blindness has brought. And if God is using this to his glory, who am I to rob God of a way that He’s chosen to work in my life and the lives of those around me?

God is so much bigger than I can imagine, and my healing is in His hands. I Corinthians 10:31 says it well: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

“So Rhianna, can I pray for you to be healed?”

“Thanks for the thought. But no. There are other things going on right now that I’m struggling with, though. Could we pray for those? And if there’s anything that you need, I’d be happy to pray with you, too.”

THE CASE OF THE DISABLED CHRISTIAN, PART ONE: SHOULD WE PRAY FOR HEALING?

Let’s hit the ground running with this blog! And I’m excited to attack the most asked, and rather controversial question for most disabled people.

Do You Want to Be Healed?

While I have an easy answer to this question which I shout from the rooftops with more conviction than most people expect, I’m not going to answer it yet. I want to break down all the facets of this question first so we can understand fully what we’re asking. I think it’s much deeper than we realize. As you read, please be mindful that everything I say here is my own personal conviction and though I know many others who share my views, these are my words and not meant to represent every disabled person’s experience.

It’s Just Physical, Right?

When someone prays for my healing, they are asking for my physical disability to be restored to health. They’re asking that my blindness be taken away and that I be given sight. That seems fairly obvious, right?

Maybe. Maybe not.

In praying for any need, there is always something underlying, something which propels the prayer into action. When the Israelites asked Moses for water in the desert in Exodus 17, Moses petitioned the Lord and He provided water through the rock at Horeb. They were thirsty so they asked for water. Similarly, when the 19th-century preacher, Charles Finney prayed for rain, he prayed with expectation and with the knowledge that without it, the crops of Oberlin Ohio would die and they couldn’t care for their cattle. Their need for rain prompted a prayer, and God answered their prayer. Though prayer is first and foremost a way to be in conversation with God, to know Him, to listen, and to grow closer to Him, it’s perfectly okay to ask for what we need. Matthew 21:22 says “And whatever you ask for in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”

But I always wonder what drives people to pray for my healing. The most common answer I hear to this question is that they want me, the disabled person, to have a better quality of life. But stay with me here, because I want to break this down even further.

What constitutes a “good” quality of life? For some, I can imagine that it’s being financially stable. For others, having a family, or perhaps, it’s having the freedom to travel. Everyone is different—some love to be up and moving and others are perfectly content at home.

But you know what? I can do all those things, too. People who are blind can travel, raise families and be financially stable. There’s no one-size-fits-all standard for quality of life. So before presuming that a disabled person’s quality of life is somehow lessened by their disability, try something different… ask them. They may just be perfectly happy. I know I am.

There’s one more comment I’d like to make before I leave this quality-of-life discussion. In hearing this question, I can’t help but hear some underlying ableism — ableism being discrimination or prejudice against individuals with disabilities. Now, let me ask this:

What makes an able-bodied person feel that they know what’s best for a disabled person?

Please, take a minute and think that over. I don’t pretend to have an answer, and it will vary depending on who you ask. But I encourage you to spend time with that question, and if you can’t find a reason other than “I’m able-bodied and they have a disability,” then I implore you as nicely as I can: STOP!

Maybe people think our quality of life would be improved by healing since we wouldn’t be bound by hospital visits or adaptive equipment or prescription medications. We wouldn’t be limited and would be free to live as we wish. But, everyone, able-bodied or disabled, has limits. Hate to break it to you. Mine happen to be physical, and for some, they’re mental or emotional. Limits don’t inhibit freedom—they enhance it.

But Doesn’t God Want Them to Be Healed?

In the Bible, there are countless stories where Jesus heals people. The healing of the blind man in John 9, the bleeding woman in Mark 5:21-43, and even after Jesus ascended, his disciples, Peter and John healing the lame man in Acts 3. These accounts are incredible and miraculous, clearly the hand of God at work in people’s lives.

But in being told and retold these miraculous accounts of healing, I’ve grown up a little fearful of what this teaches us about people with disabilities. Our presence in the Bible is often as the recipient of the amazing grace that Jesus offers in being healed of our afflictions. If this is how we are teaching about disabled individuals in the world and particularly in church, it’s little wonder that healing is our go-to response when presented with someone like me.

“But Jesus healed the blind man,” they say. “He healed the lame, the mute, the demon-possessed. Jesus was all about healing.”

Yes! He was, and still is! You’ll never see me arguing with that. But is that the only type of healing that Jesus wants for us?

I believe Jesus came to heal us spiritually, to draw us into relationship with him. Paying for our sins by dying on the cross in our place wasn’t so that I might be physically healed, but so that I could come to him, even as a sinful person, and find healing for my soul. Does that mean that Jesus has lost interest in physical healing? Absolutely not! But I don’t believe it’s his priority, and when he chooses to heal, it’s for a purpose.

Here’s where I am going to take a gamble, and this isn’t meant to put words in anyone’s mouth. But in my heart, I do believe this is a very real part of the driving force, whether the asker knows it or not.

It creates a crisis of faith for the able-bodied believer. Jesus healed the sick and disabled. He can heal today, right now, if we pray. But when he doesn’t, or the disabled person doesn’t want to be healed… what do we do with that? How do we as believers reconcile an ever-loving God with a disability? Because, if he were truly loving and wanting the best for us, wouldn’t He heal us?

We don’t know how to hold both, our God of love who made us fearfully and wonderfully and with a purpose, and disability.

But there is a way.

Continue reading: THE CASE OF THE DISABLED CHRISTIAN, PART TWO: “ALL TO THE GLORY OF GOD.”