There is much conjecture surrounding equal access in companies and organisations. Many proclaim Social Model readiness in light of a changing society. Yet, as I would come to quickly realize, an environment created on someone’s behalf, without their experience will likely not be equal. Creating truly inclusive facilities and discovering the right amount of support wanted requires discourse with those who want it (or don’t want it, as the case may be). Assumptions and guesses invariably fall short of the realities of people who face unequal access.
Recently we were tasked with writing a questionnaire for a music studio that we had been having some difficulty with, regarding accessing an Open Day. The questions were on the topics of accessibility, support and inclusivity of the course and the facilities. I found this to be an extremely difficult task and required the help of the group with every question; this is only natural - No amount of reflection, introspection, guesswork or hypothesizing will help me when I have never had to fight for my own equal access. I have no personal experience and therefore no reliable knowledge. Of course, I can learn, but I need experts to educate me on their own personal experience – a true first-person perspective.
In initial conversations with the music studio, a member of the marketing team had promised our visit to be fully facilitated and the group welcomed with open arms. They had left and been replaced by a new member of the marketing team, who, in a recent discussion had stated they were “worried about us coming.” I wondered how the studio could go from taking a (possibly) Social Model Approach to not – and not seeking help or asking question to change that. It highlighted the tentative and hazy nature of the idea of an equally accessible environment. What one individual saw as an equal access environment, another did not. It emphasized a lack of knowledge and experience that they, much like me, did not possess and were afraid to explore. Similarly, to how I had benefitted from the knowledge of my experienced teachers, the studio would also clearly gain insight from the group’s visit and could, in turn, use that knowledge to create an environment with improved equal access.
Claiming to have a fully inclusive environment, deemed inclusive by those that have never had any issue with access proves both ironic and problematic. Conversely, not being willing to listen or assuming the environment immediately is not, is just as problematic. The questionnaire was a good start and proved a willingness to engage and listen, but as I have come to realize, there are no halfway marks with equal access and an environment is not equal until those that face the inequality say it is. None the less, the first step is to try – that is the most important part!
Examples such as this highlight the decaying peripheries of unequal access as more and more companies are challenged to reconsider their environments. Companies needn't be worried. There is no universally applicable answer to creating an equal environment and it is understood that it is an issue not solved instantly. Rather, the process is a journey. It is not learnt innately, and neither is it expected to be. What is expected is a conscientious effort towards learning and towards listening to those that have the experience and knowledge, to the experts. Those with first hand personal experience.
Written by Tom Wood, Published by Dominic Palfreman