A simple definition of accessibility: The degree to which a product, device, service, or environment is available to as many people as possible. We live in a world of varying accessibility . . . everything in life is not available to every person. Not only do we live in a world with varying degrees of accessibility; the older I get, the accessibility grows even smaller. This diminishing world of accessibility can be attributed to the fact that I am aging. In growing older, I do not see as well as I once did . . . I do not hear as well as I once did . . . I am not as agile as I once was . . . and, my income is growing smaller all of the time. All these things limit my access to different parts of the world around me. Yet, like many out there, I believe that all things should be available to all people . . . the world that God created should be accessible to all of God’s children . . . me and you and everyone else. We are all God’s children.
The sad fact of the matter is, the world is not as accessible as we would like it to be . . . for a variety of reasons. We see this denial of access throughout history. Race has always been a big barrier to access in our society . . . ask any person of color . . . ask a black person, a Hispanic person, a Native American Indian, and they would all affirm that throughout history and today they have fought for access to the world around them that has been denied because they were people of color. Gender has been a barrier to access . . . ask a woman and she would tell you that things have been tough in gaining access to the world around them. Ask people with disabilities and, they too, would affirm that they do not see a whole lot of access to the world around them. Poor people could join the choir. Gay and lesbians, too. Elderly are beginning to feel it too. History shows that we have had to legislate access into law to get a lot of these folks access . . . legislation that doesn’t seem to have made much difference. The world is still pretty inaccessible to a whole lot of people.
As humans we do a real good job of talking about accessibility . . . about inclusion . . . about bringing everyone to the table for the party; but, the reality is we do not practice it as well as we preach it. And, I believe, we are all guilty of it. All of us know the motto of the Three Musketeers, “All for one, and one for all!” Yet, we live in a time when we practice survival of the fittest and everyone for him or herself. Plus, I think we are lazy. Our laziness keeps us from truly practicing accessibility in our lives and in the world in which we exist. Most accessibility issues are not that difficult to overcome . . . some cost a little money . . . some an investment in time . . . some cost a little effort. But rarely do we really want to expend that much of our money, time, or effort . . . we don’t want to be bothered. Unfortunately I think that drops it into the area of sinfulness . . . of committing a sin. At least if one believes in M. Scott Peck’s definition of sin being taking the easy way out. The bottom line is that as humans, the majority of us, don’t do well with accessibility . . . we either ignore it or we deny it.
I do not believe that the biggest barriers to accessibility are time, effort, and money. I think that we have plenty of those resources at our disposal. I think that the biggest barrier that we have to accessibility in the world in which we live is an attitude problem. As an attitude problem the issue lies between our ears . . . it is all in our minds. When scraping to the bottom of the barrel when it comes to issues of accessibility, it comes down to what is between our ears . . . it comes down to our attitudes.
When I was in seminary—long before the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was made into law—the administration was bemoaning the fact that the seminary was required by federal law to make its building accessible to people with disabilities. Primarily it meant putting in an elevator. I remember hearing a professor tell a class that in the past it was no problem to get a person in a wheel chair from the first to the second floor—several of the male classmates would just pick the person up in his or her wheel chair and carry them up the stairs. As far as this professor was concerned, the seminary didn’t need to waste money on an elevator . . . money that he deemed better spent on education.
Now mind you, this was a seminary. A seminary where people were being educated and trained to be ministers within the church. A church that believed in and proclaimed to follow the teachings and examples of Jesus. To say the least, I was floored at such an attitude. It didn’t seem very Christian to me. Money was not a big issue . . . attitude was.
At the university where I work I have had the privilege to meet many wonderful people who are both able and disable in body. One young man I met flew through the university’s education program to become a teacher. He had excellent grades. He jumped through every hoop put before him. He meet all the criteria to graduate and become a teacher. He even succeeded in getting through the state-mandated tests to be licensed as a teacher in Montana. That was two years ago . . . do you think any school district hired him to teach in their classrooms? Not one. Though they would not say it, his wheel chair was an issue. It did not matter how high in the class he graduated . . . how good of a teacher he was . . . no school district was going to hire him because of his disability. They weren’t even willing to give him a shot.
These barriers have to do with what is in the minds of people and nothing else. Time, money, and effort can solve the problems of physical accessibility, but until the issue between the ears is ever addressed, nothing will change.
Now, I am sure there are those of you who are out there reading this and thinking that I am full of it. If so, I want you to take a moment and consider your own life. Take a few minutes to think about where you work . . . how it is on diversity? Take a few minutes to think about the organizations and clubs you belong to . . . how diverse are they? Think about the neighbor where you live . . . the community in which you . . . the places you like to play . . . are they diverse? Think about where you go to worship . . . is there diversity? I doubt it. I doubt it because as humans we have a tendency to gather with those who are the most like us . . . including the places where we worship. My questions is . . . why? Why isn’t there more diversity? Is it because there is lack of funding, time, or effort . . . or, is it attitudes?
I think it is a problem that lies between our ears . . . our minds. That is the greatest barrier to accessibility. Until we can tear down that barrier, the world will never be a place where all can gather at the table as one family in God. Think about it . . . that is where it must begin. Think about it and ask yourself, who is not at the table? And . . . why?