Guest Post: Planning Accessibility

Image: The author, with her crutch. Photo by Imani Barbarin, all rights reserved.

This guest post is by Imani Barbarin. She is an African American disability rights activist with cerebral palsy. She is currently living in Paris as she graduates the American University of Paris with a Masters in Global Communications. She studies media, branding and online communities. You can find her through her site, I first encountered Imani on Twitter, and was impressed by the insight she brings to accessibility issues. – Rabbi Adar

I want you to think about how many decisions you’ve made today: from the time you woke up to now, as you read this piece. Did you choose a quick breakfast or to make a more substantial meal? Did you use disposable plates and utensils, or did you use reusables? Public transport, car, or did you decide to walk? When you got to work, did you decide to grab a quick cup of coffee or did you remember to bring a tumbler from home? How many decisions did you plan out, and how many did you make on a whim? For disabled people, like myself, planning is not only necessary but allows us to safely traverse our communities in our daily lives.

Every evening before I go to bed, I take my socks off despite cold feet. I want to make sure that if I wake up in the middle of the night, I don’t slip on the hardwood floors. Speaking of bathrooms, I only take my showers in the morning—after long days, my legs tire and it is no longer safe for me to stand on a wet and slippery surface. When I wake, I have to play a game of chicken between my bladder and my feet. It takes a few minutes for my legs to acclimate to being awake, thus the socks decision from the night before. I get to work using public transport but little decisions that everyday citizens make can make my commute more difficult. Cars and trucks parked in bus lanes mean that buses cannot stop on the curve, making me step up into the bus in traffic (additionally, this bars bus drivers from lowering ramps for wheelchair users). When I use public restrooms, others fail to take care of how much water they drip on the floor making it a dangerous surface for me to walk on. Even kind gestures can be ill advised; when I move my hand from my crutch to open a door before me, I’m opening the door my balance transfers to the handle so someone who pushes it open for me while my hand is on it is actually throwing me off balance.

Just like you and your morning decisions, the accessible choices disabled people make are unique to who they are. Disabled people are experts at planning ahead, but we cannot plan for the abled bodied people who cross our paths and are unfamiliar with the exacting lengths we go through to move as freely as possible throughout the world. It’s difficult for us to develop serious relationships outside our family and community while expressing our needs for accessibility – the types of choices that are whims for other people. If you want to take some of the weight off our minds, first, get to know who we are and (with our permission), ask what is most accessible for us. Also, consider looking into the accessibility of the places you invite us to, and, if you find that we don’t have the energy to attend an event, don’t hesitate to invite us the next time—there’s nothing worse than someone pulling away from you slowly because including you becomes too difficult for them. Lastly, don’t be overwhelmed. We understand that you have had but moments to consider what we’ve spent lifetimes thinking about. With accessibility in mind, we draw together as stronger, more informed communities.

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Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, granny, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at and teaches at Jewish Gateways in Albany, CA.

4 thoughts on “Guest Post: Planning Accessibility”

  1. I always find myself conscientious about the disabled.
    Just last week I was doing a notary signing. As I was leaving the FedEx office with the 30-ish man who was the signer, I noticed an elderly gentleman walking very slowly towards the office door.I held it open for him as the signer just stood and watched me. There was a woman walking behind the elderly gentleman and thanked me for holding the door for this stranger.
    My response:”That’s what you do.”
    One never knows when you might be in the same situation some day.
    It’s a mitzvah and good karma.
    (I couldn’t believe the signer just stood and watched me instead of offering to hold the door. He was holding a single piece of paper; I had my purse, my briefcase and cell phone in hand!)
    Thank you, Rabbi, for posting this blog.

    1. Best of all would be if the door were constructed in such a way that the gentleman could handle it himself. While it is clear you did not mind helping him, the fact that he needed assistance took away from his dignity.

      I’d like to echo something Ms. Barbarin said in her article. “Get to know us” – it’s important, when possible, to ask before helping. I’m thinking about something that came up recently for me, as I was moving around on my scooter. A helpful gentleman decided to hold a door for me. I appreciated the spirit of his action, but his good intent didn’t change the fact that he went about it in such a way that (1) his armpit was in my face, which was extremely unpleasant and (2) because he was standing in the doorway, holding the door, I couldn’t safely go through. He was irritated when I said, “I’ve got it” as cheerfully as possible, and didn’t move. He interpreted my not moving as stubbornness or ingratitude – anyway, it was not pleasant. Finally I said, “I appreciate the thought, but I need you to move.” He huffed away. Neither of us was happy, and I know that was not his intent; I wish he’d asked how he could help.

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