This past week, I had the privilege of meeting up with a dear friend of mine, Ryan. About half a year ago, Ryan was in a ski accident that resulted in her becoming a quadriplegic wheelchair user. We caught up at her apartment, where she showed me her space, let me play with her new, insanely adorable puppy, and discussed various topics regarding accessibility.
Previously a special needs teacher, Ryan’s perspective on accessibility shifted greatly when she, herself, became disabled. “Before my disability I really was non-confrontational, and this whole experience has turned me into someone who advocates for herself and other people as well as for what I want and need, because I should be valued just as much as other people in our society. I think a lot of people might find it obnoxious, but it’s just how I need to be.”
Ryan brought up the issue of isolation when it comes to ADA spaces. “Accessibility is making sure people can get to all places in a building or in a park, and they can join all of the other people instead of being separated”, Ryan explained to me. “For example, in arenas and sporting events, there is an ADA section, but what if you want to go down and be with all of your friends? You’re separated from everyone else and you can’t access parts of the space and be a part of the group.”
We then discussed the topic of living spaces for disabled persons. Ryan explained the nuances of finding a home as a person in a wheelchair. “There’s a lot that goes into finding a living space that people don’t think about,” she noted. “[In a wheelchair] you’re just lower than everyone else, and people don’t think through where light switches are, or where thermostats are, or if you can get under the sink or if you can even reach the kitchen sink.”
When it comes to representation of disabled people in the media, Ryan expressed how she hopes to see more narratives surrounding disabled people’s lives, rather than how inspiring they might be. “The goal would be to tell a story that’s not all about one’s disability but rather just one’s life and experience,” she explains.