Yesterday, I wrote an article about how airlines are designing business class seats that exclude disabled passengers.
My article received a tweet reply from Cameron Newman, a California web developer, who criticized it for being “more crybaby complaints from the disabled.” In his view, the new seats which prohibit disabled access “are absolutely fine.”
I challenged the man’s apparent ableism in a single tweet, and he blocked me. He chose not to delete his own tweet, however, and my readers began to push back against his viewpoint.
The exchange escalated quite a bit across several threads, and he doubled-down on his ableist position. One Tweet in particular caught my eye, and it reveals so much about the way people think (or don’t think) about our community.
Like many people, Cameron believes that disability is rare and affects people only in old age. “More than 99% of human beings are able bodied,” he falsely claims.
Here are some statistics shared by the Centers for Disease Control:
The infographic reveals that 13.7% of Americans have a mobility impairment that is considered to be a disability. It turns out that our Twitter bigot’s “more than 99%” claim is way off, but his perception may be an accurate reflection of what most Americans believe.
Many able-bodied people think that the world is already accessible, because they saw a wheelchair user at the shopping mall one time. And, because they see so few of us in public spaces, the idea that more than 10% of Americans might use a wheelchair is mind-boggling.
People often ask, where are they? The answer is that many disabled people are trapped in their own homes, because they cannot put the cart before the horse.
As I wrote last week, “Accessibility is the first step towards a disability-inclusive society, and our continued exclusion from the roles that impact accessibility, diversity and inclusion are making us prisoners to the unacceptable status quo.”
Although most Americans who need a wheelchair have one, their local community and the larger world may not be so inviting. The travel industry, even less so. On this website, I have documented all manner of accessibility issues that discourage disabled travel. Among these are a lack of accessible taxis, public transport systems without equal access, hotels that do not comply with the ADA, airlines damaging wheelchairs and, most recently, inaccessible airplane seats.
Despite all these barriers, more than 500,000 people took their own wheelchair or mobility scooter on airplanes last year. Now imagine how much larger that number would be if accessibility improved. In an accessible world, the number of disabled people in restaurants, shopping malls, train stations and on airplanes would closely track the disability index — in effect, one in four people we see would have a disability.
As our societies strive for greater diversity and inclusion, the disability community will need to increase its visibility. The increasing participation of disabled people will do much more to educate ignorant ableists like Cameron than any tweet could, and it may finally shift the focus to accessibility.