I came across a new term recently in some training sessions offered by our Office of Formation and Leadership Development (OFLD). The facilitator used the term ‘microaggression’ to describe the endless small but repetitive ways in which we can be isolated, alienated, put down or devalued by the world around us. She was using it in the context of being LGBTQ, however I immediately thought of someone I know who has certain access needs and is constantly battling just to do the most basic things – get into a building, use the toilet, have a lift that works. I have a friend who uses a wheelchair and he endlessly encounters difficulties; in one shop, he couldn’t reach the card reader and so the shop assistant asked him for his PIN so she could put it in herself. Understandably, he didn’t want to disclose such personal information, so he didn’t make his purchase. My sister uses a wheelchair. It is fascinating to see how she is treated or ignored by people. It is very rare to find people who speak directly to her and not to the person standing behind the wheelchair. When I go and visit, I am often sent on ahead to get a table in the café etc. whilst my sister gets out of the car. In many places, even though the staff are very helpful, they will talk about where the wheelchair will fit. I correct them and say ‘This is where my sister will be able to sit’.
None of this is new news to anyone who has a disability or knows someone who has. The point is this; I want my sister and my friend and anyone else who has access issues of any kind, to be able to do easily what I take for granted. Therefore, I need to use my voice and my understanding to also raise the issues. This is not to disempower others, nor to take away their voice. It is to show that I care and it matters. I also hope it means one less microaggression for someone else to encounter and expend their energy on. Inclusion is a ‘work in progress.’ We can each do our bit to make a difference.