These last few weeks of staying home to “stay safe” to prevent us from being infected by the coronavirus has been difficult. From not being able to go out to socialize, go grocery shopping, and even going into work has proven difficult for the most of us. Being immobilized because of a looming virus omnipresence is tough. Wanting to be out there but having to stay home because it is “safer” for us is a difficult concept to grasp. Most of us are having a hard time and it has just been a few weeks. Imagine living your entire life like that. In a world without assistive technologies like wheelchairs, hearing aids, glasses, and many others, people with disabilities would be living that every single day. Inaccessibility is a topic that has been dismissed because most people do not know how it feels to not have things accessible.
For those who use wheelchairs, inaccessibility is a constant battle, from not fitting in the correct wheelchair to having to figure out how to maneuver inaccessible access ways in the community. Individuals with mobility impairments have been fighting for freedom that we all have. Self-advocates and advocates for people with disabilities have been fighting for transportation, for accessible walkways, for accessible parking spaces, and many other simple joys that we, as people who do not need any assistive devices, take for granted.
For us to understand how inaccessibility affects people with disabilities, we first must understand the different types of assistive technologies and how they assist people who use them. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, assistive technology is any item, piece of equipment, or product system that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities.
Some assistive tech or device we see often are wheelchairs, glasses, and hearing aids. A wheelchair is defined as a manually operated or power-driven device designed primarily for use by an individual with a mobility disability for the main purpose of indoor, or of both indoor and outdoor, locomotion. Simply put, a wheelchair helps a person who has trouble moving move.
Squeezing out of a car door when someone else parks way too close or jumping over boxes blocking the aisles of stores seem easy, but imagine what a person who uses a wheelchair goes through when those inconveniences occur, from having to find a new parking spot, which maybe further from the entrance, or having to turn around and find another way to access the aisle. We do not think of this enough, but it still occurs.
It’s easy for people without disabilities to take these things for granted, but who is going to help those who really need it? Yes it is easy to ask someone else to do simple things for you, but being free to do them yourself is liberating. A friend of mine shared his experience about how this pandemic is affecting him. It brought him back to the days when he could not do anything because he did not have access to the right technology to help him get day to day things done for himself.
The rise of assistive technology such as the wheelchair opened so many opportunities for people with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act or the ADA, protects the rights of people with disabilities. The ADA was passed in 1990 and it opened the door of access in all areas of life including employment, state and local government services, public accommodations, and telecommunications. Section 3 of the ADA protects the rights of people with disabilities in public places. Places that offer its services to the public need to accommodate people with disabilities. The ADA lays out several rules such as how much space is needed for people who uses wheelchairs would need to get through aisles and other access ways, provide accommodations to those who are visually and hearing impaired, and most commonly seen here, reserving accessible parking spaces for people who need them.
We may not need assistive devices or need to understand any of those laws yet, but the one thing about disabilities is that they never discriminate—everyone one day will likely need an assistive device or care for someone with a disability. So while we are self-isolating at home and wanting to be free again, let us think about accessibility in our community and see how we can help make our community and ourselves more accessible.
For more information about assistive technology, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and accessibility, contact the Northern Marianas Protection & Advocacy Systems, Inc. at (670) 235-7273/4 or visit us on the web at www.nmpasi.org, www.facebook.com/NMPASI, and follow us on Instagram @nmpasi670.
Dawn Margaret S. Sablan (Special to the Saipan Tribune)
Dawn Margaret S. Sablan is a projects specialist at the Northern Marianas Protection & Advocacy Systems, Inc.