One of the arguments often advanced in the case for disability rights and accessibility is that certain features of accessibility often benefit mothers with strollers or elderly people. Some of my favorite disability advocates use this argument, and while it is sensical and a good way to sell the idea of accessibility to those who would not care otherwise, its implications on disability is perhaps more harmful than good. Its most damning features are that it detracts from the goal of the argument (i.e., disability rights and accessibility are important human rights) and it implies that disability discrimination is not sufficient for changing society. Disabled people should not have to show how their rights will improve the lives of others in order for their rights to be important. Too often, I see disability rights being packaged in a way that illuminates how they will also benefit nondisabled people.
If disability rights was a part of our national (or even global) conversation, it might be acceptable for nondisabled people to make the conversation about how disability rights affects all of us, but this is not the case. Instead, by inserting themselves into the conversation, nondisabled people are reinforcing the idea that accommodating and giving disabled people equal access is not enough to warrant a change. In order to make disability rights worth fighting for, we talk about how the nondisabled people in the communities are affected by accessibility, instead of those whose rights are being infringed upon. This shows a lack of concern for the real issue at hand–discrimination and inequality based on disability.
While it is true that accessible features such as ramps and elevators can be beneficial to parents with strollers and the aging population, accessibility should not have to be packaged in a way that nondisabled people can relate. Other rights issues, such as marriage equality laws do not have to be packaged in a way that heterosexual people can benefit from because same-sex couples being denied the rights that heterosexual couples take for granted is seen as a sufficient warrant for changing the laws. In the case of disability rights, disabled having their rights infringed upon is seldom viewed as enough to warrant outrage, upset, or change in laws.
Many will quip that access costs money, and I will not deny this. However, I do find it hard to believe that money should be enough to withhold someone’s rights. Money is not an issue when parents with strollers are involved in the debate. Yes, more people utilizing a ramp may justify the cost, but the money should not have to be justified when it comes to basic rights. If my able-bodied counterparts have the option to go somewhere or do something, I should too.
The problem is that as a society, we view disability rights as “excess,” and disabilities themselves as individual shortcomings to be overcome. In reality, we live in a world that values certain bodies over others, and configures society to fit that hierarchy. Disability is a social issue, not just a physical one.
Granting rights should never be about who else will benefit (but is not currently having their rights denied) or cost effectiveness. We seldom do this with any other type of human right, and the disabled community deserves the same respect. We should not have to sell our rights to nondisabled people by telling them people “like them” (i.e., nondisabled parents pushing strollers and elderly people) will benefit from the expansion of our rights. We should not have to sell our rights because at the end of the day, no one has to justify their right to public spaces.