There has been a very valuable discussion on Twitter from Ms. Sinenomine about the use of the term “Walkability”.
She is well worth a follow, and presents a stalwart and stark view of how the language we use focuses away from the root of accessibility and universal acceptance. She states the obvious: we need to do better at ensuring that the most vulnerable have the same access and social equity to sidewalk pavements and public spaces, and we must start doing that now.
Here is part of her post, presented below.
Earlier this week I was tagged on tweet related to an urban planning trend about designing for ‘walkable’ or ‘walkability.’ I replied, I don’t walk so it doesn’t apply to me.
If my friend calls me up and asks if I want to go for a walk I don’t yell “I DON’T WALK!” into the phone and hang up. I say “Oh Lord yes I need to get off Twitter, let’s go!” (If I’m well) My friend is not designing public space. My friend is not an urban planner.
I can’t believe I have to explain why the word matters a great deal in one situation and not in the least in another but…it’s 2018 and so apparently I do.
As a disabled person my accessibility needs either aren’t considered, are an afterthought, or I am stuck with someone else’s idea of what will work for me which not only doesn’t but who’ll then become angry & insist that it MUST because they understand my body better than I do. The professions involved in designing our physical environment & architecture epitomize all three of the worst of those things.
Let’s assume no ill intent. Let’s assume no actual desire to exclude.
Let’s assume that inaccessibility in design today mainly happens because
‘I didn’t think about that.’
‘We changed it at the last minute.’
‘I didn’t think that small adjustment would matter.’
‘The budget was tight & we had to cut somewhere.’
‘We couldn’t make it work…’ So first of all – insisting that the word accessible be added or ‘walkable’ be replaced with a more inclusive word means that when they fail on accessibility, it is put front and centre. It’s not ‘among our priorities will be’ It is a requirement.
It also works as a reminder we exist and our design needs exist. For most of the last century we weren’t a part of the community & the community was not designed for us to be there. Disabled people were institutionalized. Designing for us wasn’t a consideration.
What passes for accessibility today may very well be considered out of date tomorrow.
One of the things that irritates me with planners, civil engineers, designers is they’ll tell me ‘We know how to make things accessible’
It’s all solved? Nothing to be improved?
But here’s the funny thing. I can push them on this because I am a wheelchair user. I can say simply, I can’t walk – and it’s true and it’s hard to argue with me that the word sounds strange ‘Hey there wheelchair user, come see the walkable neighbourhood we designed’
The truth is it’s not just about wheelchair users.
Before I was a wheelchair user I used a walker. I could get places I currently can’t but I felt less comfortable being out than I do know. The timing of the lights left me in the street when crossing.
I worried – really worried – about being knocked by someone’s bag or brushed too hard by someone passing on those not wide enough for people of different widths with different belongings, devices…to move at different speeds. It would not have taken much to knock me over.
But it’s not even just people who are unsteady – like I was – and using walkers – or wheelchair users.
Physical space is not just what’s beneath us. It’s what’s around us.
What in our physical space is welcoming or barrier to other disabled people.
It’s generally recognized that accessibility of design *should* (in theory) consider wheelchair users and people with mobility disabilities, blind and Deaf community needs. Less common- people with intellectual disabilities, ND folks, people with mental health disabilities.
I truly believe whatever they think they mean – or whatever a few exceptional ones may generally mean – the word walkable means, ‘people who are pretty much like me’ When your profession has been part of the systematic exclusion of an entire demographic & you genuinely want to make that shift to full inclusion – you don’t put it in the fine print…
You hire a sky writer, you drive around with a speaker on the roof of your car (or handlebar of your bike). You knock on doors. You hand out posters. You set up tables at the mall. You bring in interpreters. You make accessible videos – saying
WELCOME. WE WANT TO DO BETTER.
You can make your goal designing better communities for people who already are not excluded from the community – or you can make your goal designing communities that welcome everyone including those who have been and are most excluded.
The latter will necessarily give you the former. But the former will not necessarily lead to the latter – and in fact is unlikely. You can make your goal designing better communities for people who already are not excluded from the community – or you can make your goal designing communities that welcome everyone including those who have been and are most excluded.
Oh one last thing – while you’re all here. Still waiting for a building to be built where the non-disabled have to enter around back next to the garbage bin & only disabled people can use the main entrance.
When that happens, maybe we can talk about how we mean you too.”
April 30, 2018