access strawmanning

Access straw men

A lot of people are reluctant to change anything for the sake of accessibility, even if the change would be inexpensive and easy. Often, they resist even considering the possibility that there are changes they could make that would enable a broader range of people to participate.

Often, they set up access strawmen as a way to avoid negotiating access. 

Those conversations go like this:

  • The disabled person asks for a modification of some sort.
  • The resistant person ignores the actual request.
  • They instead describe something vaguely related that’s obviously unreasonable.
  • Then they insinuate that the disabled person asked them for the obviously unreasonable thing
  • They implore the disabled person to be more flexible and reasonable
  • The disabled person generally doesn’t get their needs met, and often ends up disoriented and feeling a lot of shame

An example:

  • Douglas: I can’t climb stairs. I need class to be held in a room on the first floor.
  • Roger: It sounds like what you really need is for all the buildings to be rebuilt for you. I can’t rebuild all the buildings; I have to focus on teaching.

Or sometimes:

  • Dawn: I can only read lips if people are looking at me. Can we talk about how to make class discussions work?
  • Robin: I can’t stop other students from talking to each other. Why don’t you take this opportunity to work on your listening skills?

When a person with a disability asks for an accommodation in school, work, a conference, or wherever, don’t set up a straw man to reject. Respond to the actual problem, and try to find a solution. Is there  a way to do the thing they’re asking for? If not, why not? Is there something else you *could* do that would work? Occasionally there is no good solution; more often, there is a way to make things work. When people in positions of responsibility are willing to look for access solutions and put effort into implementing them, a lot of things become possible.