“I’ve been a wheelchair user for the past 12 years. When I started using a wheelchair I was often frustrated and angry by all the barriers I was encountering for the first time; difficulty with finding a parking spot with enough space to load/unload my wheelchair, inability to visit my friends in their homes or apartments due to stairs, having to plan my day around the availability of accessible bathrooms. Things I had taken for granted all of my able-bodied life were no longer things I could assume were going to be accessible for me anymore. As I started to adjust to life as a member of the largest minority group (people with a disability(ies)), I had to accept that discrimination, stereotypes and barriers were going to be part of my daily life.
My experiences led me to a career in a Disability Services at a university where I have the opportunity to work directly with students to remove barriers they experience on an individual level and provide trainings and education to different groups on campus as well as advise on accessibility on a large level as well. Having the opportunity to be part of improving accessibility on campus is incredibly rewarding. My personal experiences inform my work and provide a valuable perspective into accessibility and equal access in a university environment.
In Austin, dockless mobility devices are relatively new. ‘Dockless’ means there are no specific places where the devices (bikes and scooters) have to be parked so that has meant they have ended up on sidewalks, ramps, yards and other inconvenient places. It’s become a problem for many different people but one day on my way to work it became personal to me. The folks who charge the scooters at night and place them out in the morning had chosen one strip of sidewalk to set up three scooters perpendicular to the sidewalk—effectively blocking anyone from using the sidewalk without forcing them to go over or around the scooters.
While other people might be able to walk around the scooters, I didn’t have that choice. Instead, I was forced to wait for a strange to walk by and ask for help, as there was no easy detour to continue on my way. The feeling of frustration and anger I felt from my early days as a wheelchair user returned. Frustrated by the situation, I posted the pictures on Facebook, expressing my frustration and wanting folks to understand their behavior has on others. My Facebook post read: “Another day in paradise… on my way to work this morning the sidewalks were blocked by Bird scooters in not one, but three!, places. Totally unacceptable! I called 311 to file a report and called out both the City of Austin and Bird Scooters on social media. Folks need to realize not everyone has the privilege of being able to walk around these obstacles to continue on their way to work, school or play!”
The attention my post has received has been astounding. Mostly positive, many of the comments were from people who had never considered life from my perspective or how their behavior could impact others. The scooter company reached out and is in conversation with me and many others in the disability community to fully understand and address the problem the dockless devices are creating. What started out as a frustrating morning has turned into an incredible opportunity for education and advocacy. I am amazed by how many people took the time to read and respond to my post and humbled that I could be part of starting a conversation and creating change in regard to these dockless devices. Each of us has a role to play in learning about the experiences of people different from us and figuring out how we as individuals and organizations can work together to create more inclusive and accessible communities.”
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