Accessibility Isn’t Universal


I read a post from a friend today and something clicked – the missing pieces from my last post on how inclusion is inconvenient.  Rather than try to edit or add to that one, I decided to simply write another.


No perfect fit

No one place or class can be universally accessible.  This idea is something I’ve struggled with for a long time as a parent of children with Sensory Processing Disorder (or Sensory Integration Disorder, they’re used interchangeably.)  Obviously that’s what people strive for, and in some cases are legally bound to provide.  Clearly, people with all different needs deserve to have those needs met, right?  So why would I say that it’s impossible to meet all those needs – in the same space?

Because their needs conflict with each other.

The many faces of SPD

Two of my kids have high sensory needs that require large amounts of sensory input.  That means running, jumping, slamming into things, yelling, touching everything, flopping on the floor, and generally being loud and physical in a way that society frowns on.  Other kids with SPD may have sensory aversions – meaning the loud, physical behaviors of my kids are overwhelming and actually painful.  How are we supposed to accommodate both in the same space?

It’s impossible.


How can we meet every need?

What if you’re a teacher who has two different students in their classroom – one who needs absolute quiet to focus, and one who needs background noise to focus?  How do you even begin to accommodate those wildly different needs?  Is that even possible?

Yes, it is.  But perhaps not in the same space.  Sometimes we need to focus on making more space, to look beyond what we’re using.


Rethinking accessible

We need to let go of this idea that any one space can meet everyone’s needs at the same time.  It’s not logical.  We can try.  We can try pretty darned hard and do a good job of getting really close, but it’s impossible to fill all the needs of anyone who might have conflicting needs with others.  Attempting to meet needs is a good start, but it’s not the final goal.  The final goal is to make sure that everyone’s needs are met even if that means we have to expand our definition of accessible.


Practically speaking

So what can you do when you’re faced with a situation that has to accommodate everyone’s needs?  Practically speaking, most of us don’t have the funds to run a co-op or group in a large space just to accommodate the needs of a few.  There has to be a way to work with what we have, right?

Be creative.  Try to think of ways to work around it.  Ask the kids to point out things that bother them, or ask them how they feel when they’re in the room in order to find solutions.  If the florescent lights are bothering some of the kids, see if you can open the blinds and let in natural light instead.  If it’s too loud for some participants, have a safe, quiet spot for them to escape to outside of the space.  Likewise a safe place to get the wiggles out.

If physical disabilities are the problem, map out accessible routes and put someone in charge of making sure those routes are kept clear.  If allergies are an issue, institute a protocol to eliminate exposures.  If a space is visually overwhelming, try covering it up with sheets to keep things visually calm.

You may have one space to work with, but there are always corners, hallways, nooks, and unused space to help you accommodate their needs.  Think creatively, like setting up a tent or room divider.


The biggest issue

The biggest hurdle to accessibility, as well as inclusion, isn’t the physical space – it’s the mindset and attitude of the people in it.  And they are the ones who can make all the difference.   You can make a difference.

It just has to matter to you.





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