In my first column about the Access for All campaign, I asked a provocative question: ‘…what would be the point of gaining physical access to a restaurant if you can’t read any of the menus?’ Perhaps, I could have asked what would be the point of gaining physical access to any building, if the lack of accessible information meant you didn’t know anything about the services that were offered inside. Of course, this question can be answered in many ways and Zoe Mclean last week highlighted the valuable advice that Access Panels give in making sure any building or service is accessible as possible. To return to our restaurant example, menus could be prepared in large print versions at the same time as you print your ordinary menus (and they are extremely useful even for people who would not consider themselves having a communication support need – think of the thousands of us who need reading glasses as we get older!). Audio and picture versions could be prepared using inexpensive software that is readily available. Braille versions might take a bit more planning but there are organisations who can help with this. But it is also possible simply to read the menu out to people and if you are regularly changing the menu or adding ‘specials’, that would generally be a quite reasonable adjustment.
But I want to look at the question from another angle completely – what is the point of any us going to a restaurant, a café, a pub, or many other public spaces? Well, of course, a main reason is simply to meet up with other people. This need to be with other people, to share our stories, to feel involved and valued, to feel as if we are being responded to, starts as soon as we are born. Babies are natural communicators and social connectors and I believe we never lose these abilities or needs.
In my day-to-day work but also in my life, I am inspired by the wonderful Canadian writer, Judith Snow. Sadly, she died last year but she left behind a legacy of exciting ideas about the importance of connections between people. She describes how our identities are shaped in part by the people around us. She suggests, for example, if somebody comes in to your life then new qualities develop within you. Coming into contact or relationship with more people means even more of the real you is revealed. If you connect with a wide range of diverse people, then there is a greater possibility for you to really become yourself and for other people to become themselves also.
If we think about all of the connections in our lives and how those various people are themselves connected to others, we can see that these connections hold us together and give us a sense of purpose, value and identity. But if there are people we can’t easily connect with because we all can’t access the same place, then maybe parts of our real selves will never get revealed? So as I said in the first column, the human case for access is perhaps the strongest of all. We have many wonderful places and social groups locally where we can meet with others and the more accessible they become to as many people as possible, then the more we all have the possibility to really become our selves. Who knows where the journey could take us?
Dr Paul Hart
Head of Research and Practice