Accessibility Or Luxury? It’s a Matter of Perspective.

What if your luxury is my accessibility? What if the things you deem extras are essentials to me?

I am a disabled woman. To be more specific, I am both visibly (I am a non-ambulatory wheelchair user) and invisibly disabled (multiple disabilities which are not apparent by looking at me).

People routinely argue with, ignore and deny my accessibility needs for my visible and invisible disabilities. More importantly so do the politicians we elect, the governments they form and the experts they consult with and who I am forced to deal with because they are given gate-keeping and decision-making power over my life.

All of them keep several bingo cards worth of excuses on hand for why my or any other disabled person’s accessibility need(s) can’t be met.

The needs vary but the excuses rarely do.

I am also poor. This is not uncommon for disabled people, especially disabled women and especially for those who live alone or are single parents.

When you are poor even basic needs such as shelter, food, essential clothing and grooming are treated more like luxuries than they are rights. Even though public programs and financial assistance are not supposed to be framed as charity the legacy remains in the form of the ever-present ‘taxpayer’ rhetoric and the various policing of how poor people spend what little money they have. As a result there is an expectation of excessive and overt displays of gratitude and at minimum a submissive acceptance of making do with unsuitable even if unsuitable means unusable and/or significantly lowers the quality and/or quantity of your life in ways that it would not impact a non-disabled person of similar income.

As well there is something we disabled folks refer to as #CripTax. The additional costs associated with living as a disabled person. Many or most of these are a direct result of ableism in that they are either not covered, more expensive or required because the ‘regular’ version or method is not accessible to us.

Some of my accessibility needs are deemed luxuries. Others are deemed wasteful – such as plastic bendy straws. I wrote about some of my ‘wasteful’ accessibility needs in a previous post.

I’d like to talk about the ones that deemed ‘luxuries.’

First it’s necessary to mention how limited and limiting the current understanding of accessibility is. It’s not intersectional. It’s not evidence or science-based. It caters to and reinforces a disability hierarchy and there is enormous gate-keeping regarding which disabled people and what kind of things fall under the category of accessibility. It fails to acknowledge inaccessibility as result of and source of discrimination and violation of our rights. At best it seems to aspire to plausible rather than pleasant, easy, enjoyable and aesthetically pleasing or at least not unpleasant which are things typically expected for the systems, policies, places, spaces and things for non-disabled accessibility.

Second, even though many things needed for wheelchair accessibility are also frequently deemed too much of a luxury (auto-door openers on public washrooms for example), I am going to focus more on some that are related to the invisible aspects of my disability.

I have an auto-immune disease that causes, among many other things, fatigue.

Fatigue is not like being tired. In fact it’s really nothing at all like being tired. Having previously been someone who often worked too long and too hard and slept too little, I can confidently tell you I have been extremely tired emotionally and physically and it is nothing at all like fatigue.

As a result one of the things Occupational Therapists taught me was to do things to try to minimize the amount of energy required for a task; energy conservation. This is important for me for managing pain, energy and other symptoms. Another version or framing of this is the well known spoon theory.

So what are some of my ‘luxury’ accessibility needs?

A washer and dryer inside the unit. The idea of putting washers and dryers inside apartments is seen as a luxury reserved for condo owners and people living in expensive rentals. Aside from concerns about spreading infestations and the (should be obvious) challenge of carrying dirty laundry down the hall, into the elevator, down another hall, opening door of and getting into a laundry room in a manual wheelchair – and doing reverse with clean laundry (or still dirty laundry if washers are in use as is often the case in my building which has one accessible laundry room with two washrooms for over 200 apartments), there is the issue of energy conservation. And then there is the issue of incontinence and regurgitated contents of my stomach and the fact the longer those sit unlaundered the less likely it is they will get clean, will attract bugs and will cause odours within the home. On top of that there are the odours of other people’s heavily scented laundry products, the laundry of heavy smokers that in addition to the smell coming from them and their laundry, is often filled with ashes and an assortment of other things that my body and health do not appreciate.

A dishwasher. This would cause less pain if counters were on hydraulics and taps and faucet weren’t placed at the back but washing dishes actually involves a number of movements that are difficult for me. It’s a frustrating reality that at a time in my life when I could particularly benefit from cooking more and eating prepared less, I am doing more of the latter and less of the former than I have ever done in my life.

Countertops and cupboards on hydraulics.

A computer. Isolation is on par with smoking 15 cigarettes a day in terms of impact on your health. I remember how incredibly isolated I was before I had a computer.

A second wheelchair. Wheelchairs break down.

A SmartDrive or cycle add-on for wheelchair. I live in a city that prides itself on its bike lanes, emphasis on active transportation, brags about its two-wheeled bike share and where every street is varying degrees of steep.


Is not this

Because people have to have clean clothes and need to be able to get to medical appointments and do have to eat these needs still have to be met.

In my building we have a lounge where all the care aids gather and do laundry for people who mostly could do it on their own if they had units in their own apartments. I am hard pressed to find an explanation that doesn’t involve ‘because it’s a luxury and poor people don’t deserve luxuries’ as to why it is better to pay for care aids to do laundry indefinitely than it is to put a washer and dryer inside an apartment.

Likewise I know many of my taxi and HandyDart trips would be eliminated by policies supporting active transportation for disabled people including ‘luxury’ mobility equipment and charging stations throughout the city for those who use scooters and power wheelchairs.

People can eat better and maybe have the energy to do other things with their life like volunteer and work if they have the equipment that makes it reasonable to cook and do dishes and not the non-disabled equivalent of pumping water from a well and hauling it inside to do dishes.

If you are a disabled person what are some things you need for accessibility that people dismiss as luxury?

These are just a few of mine that come to mind.

5 thoughts on “Accessibility Or Luxury? It’s a Matter of Perspective.

  1. Pingback: Accessibility Or Luxury? It’s a Matter of Perspective. | mssinenomineblog | albertruel

  2. I’m on the autism spectrum and also likely have some kind of as-yet-unidentified disability affecting my body structure (basically, for reasons yet to be determined, joints and such get displaced more easily than they’re meant to). A few that spring to mind:

    * A car, or at least reliable access to one. Although I theoretically can take public transit (as in, I’m physically and mentally able to get on a bus or a train), it’s a much bigger burden on me than on most people. I struggle with some form of fatigue also (again, lots of question marks still) as well as limited executive function. The time and energy drain of public transit makes it so much harder to get done everything I want to do in a day, since I already have more limited hours to begin with. Also, I can’t carry very much weight, so trying to do errands by public transit means limitations on what and how much I can buy. And yes, I know that technically everyone has that limitation, but I can’t carry as much as most able-bodied adults, and I’m further limited because if I “overdo it”, the impacts are more serious and longer-lasting.

    * Good shoes. Not “good” as in fancy (like those sparkly ones in the picture), but specifically good quality. My knees are among the hardest-hit parts of my body from this unknown issue (they occasionally pop out of joint when I’m walking or running); there’s no way to completely prevent issues, but shoes that support and balance my feet correctly seems to reduce how often that happens. Also, good-quality soles are important, because cheap shoes tend to wear down quickly in the heaviest weight-bearing areas, and uneven soles mean more difficulties. More specifically, shoes of this type that aren’t sneakers — sneakers are more likely to have these features, but aren’t appropriate for every occasion (and I can’t “just change when I get there” because most of the walking I’d be doing is WITHIN whatever I’m dressing for, not on my way to/from it).

    * Decent quality furniture, especially chairs and beds. Obviously, no one LIKES an uncomfortable desk chair, but most people can tolerate one on a limited basis with no lasting ill effects. For me, sitting in a bad desk chair for just six hours (less than a standard workday) can leave me in significant pain — repeated use compounds the issue. Same goes for if I sleep on an unsupportive mattress. It’s not the mild annoyance for me that it is for most people.

    * Bathtubs. Soaking in hot water can help a lot with certain types of pain because it loosens muscles (in my case, for instance, this helps ease things back into place), but so many low-budget apartments only have standing showers. (I get that this one is a little tricky because tubs are a problem for some people, and I’m not saying every place needs to or should have one, but it also shouldn’t be something that’s basically impossible to get unless you can pay for a bigger/fancier apartment. There should be a variety of options available in every budget range.)

    Wow, this got long, sorry. I guess I had more to say on the subject than I realized.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Please don’t apologize for the length. I appreciate you taking the time to reply and share these. We rarely give people the time or the space they need and deserve. I think you expressed some accessibility needs that many people have and that aren’t identified as accessibility needs. You hit on some of mine for sure. So again, thank you.


  4. Here’s the email I sent to all the Vancouver City Councillors about the Straw Ban vote today (Nov, 27, 2019)

    I want to ask you to reject Straw Bans at tonight’s Council meeting. Personally I don’t often use straws, but this issue effects me because it distracts us from making better policies that would have positive impacts.

    It’s been clearly proven that straw bans do little to nothing to protect the environment. Instead, the biggest concrete effect of such laws is to discriminate against disabled people who rely on straws to drink in public.

    Imagine never being able to buy a beverage without defending your medical history. That’s the burden this law places on people. I wouldn’t want to do that every day, and I don’t think anybody should have to.

    Instead we should use the debate around straw bans to educate the public on listening to disabled people, and create laws that actually accomplish intended environmental goals.

    This article from the Chicago Tribune lays out the reasons why straw bans are a harmful distraction from important pollution issues:
    “Trendy bans on plastic straws are mostly bunk”
    (June, 2018)

    Straw bans are feel-good environmentalism. The only argument for them is that they’re a symbolic step that may inspire people to change other actually harmful practices.

    But that imaginary “good” impacts real people by excluding them from participation in daily activities. It’s unjust and bad policy.

    Instead I suggest the City consider real environmental policies that would have real impact. Any city that wants to ban straws better have already banned seafood, since fishing nets are the majority of ocean waste. A policy like that would be harder to support, but that’s the point. Real change takes courage and thoughtful dedication.

    Policies like straw bans on the other hand only make “other” people suffer. They prevent people from meeting the most basic human needs. Defenders of straw ban need to think about that. Are they willing to ban a whole class of people to make themselves feel better?

    Thank you, and I look forward to hearing how you’ve voted on this.


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