I was born with cerebral palsy.
For me, this means that I have a lack of mobility on the left side of my body. Because of this, I have always had to rely on a wheelchair.
Overall, being in a wheelchair doesn’t stop me from getting out in the community, exploring, and traveling the world.
I have traveled to many different places and seen many different things. But, there is one problem I always come across when traveling, whether it be within my community or somewhere out of state. This is a lack of accessibility. It comes from the lack of understanding of how accessibility affects the lives of people living with disabilities. When I talk about accessibility, this includes things like installing ramps, providing adequate space inside a store, and having assisted use bathrooms.
I’ve had countless difficult experiences due to lack of accessibility. Sometimes I’ll try to go to a restaurant or a historic spot when traveling and it is not ADA compliant. It doesn’t have a single ounce of accessibility. My heart just sinks because that is a constant reminder that society isn’t made for people like me. That’s exactly why we need to talk about the importance of accessibility. Why should I have to miss out on experiences that people who are not disabled can easily access?
I remember the first time I realized that I needed to speak out about accessibility and having a condition like cerebral palsy.
I was 17 years old. My mom, cousin, and I were at the St. Paddy’s day festival in Las Olas in Fort Lauderdale. We decided we wanted to go to the local pet store because we saw a Yorkie that my mom was interested in buying. But, the place made it almost impossible for me to get into. There was no wheelchair-accessible ramp and the store was cramped and tiny. The owner of the store gave us a nasty look and told us that someone in a wheelchair should not be in there.
This situation made me feel very anxious . It made me begin to think negatively about myself and I got extremely angry. My mom got upset as well. Just because I’m in a wheelchair doesn’t mean I don’t have the right to live like an able-bodied person. After all, disability rights are human rights. By not having accessible places – by not even abiding by the laws of the Disability Rights Act of 1990 – you’re basically stripping away our human rights. By stripping away our human rights, you’re taking away our freedom and our abilities to share our stories with the world. You’re taking away our opportunities to be productive citizens.
You’re simply trying to walk across the street but someone builds a wall that blocks the street you’re trying to cross. Think of how that feels. When I try to go into a building that doesn’t have the proper accessibility, even with something as simple as smooth ramps or enough space for a wheelchair, my rights are being stripped.
This is exactly why we need to talk about accessibility in the world around us.
If we talk more about accessibility and bring awareness to the issue, we can educate other people on the importance of accessibility. Maybe we can make society a better place for every wheelchair user. People with disabilities shouldn’t have to worry every time they leave their house. Everyone deserves the right to an accessible world and the ability to travel.