Guest post by Kim Campagne
I was visiting a museum the other day. It was rainy and grey, a day when many people flock into museums to escape the bad weather. There was an unusual room where I saw art pieces scattered around on top of easels. The pieces were copies of famous paintings, but there was something different. When I had a closer look at van Gogh’s sunflowers, I realized that the surface wasn’t flat. The point was to feel - instead of to see - the painting. I could touch the vase and petals forming curves and edges across the surface. The museum had made art accessible to people who are visually impaired.
I realized I had somehow understood inaccessibility to be unavoidable in a museum. I hadn’t stopped to think whether it was actually impossible for a visually impaired person to be able to appreciate paintings. I believe this reflects a prevalent mentality among businesses of extending pity and politeness to people with disadvantages, but rarely considering them as possible consumers. I had seen museums where people in wheelchairs were left to stare at blank spaces because paintings were hung up too high. I had seen museums with doorways that were too small, and steps that were too tricky for people with limited mobility due to age, having small children, illness, weight and/or blindness. In contrast, here was a business who stopped to think and, as a result, had extended their list of clients. At the same time, I was impressed by their consideration, as I’m sure other visitors had been too, which turned us into regular visitors.
Being a successful business means excellent customer service and marketing under a mission employees and clients can believe in. Better accessibility would massively benefit all those aspects. Going back to the museum example, reflect on how many more people would be buying a ticket if those outside of the “norm” would not just be dismissed, but viewed as more possible clients or talented employers and employees.
If a person who is visually impaired can go to a museum to appreciate art, then what other possibilities are out there? In such a big and diverse city like Vancouver, businesses can reach out to the different communities and collaborate towards solutions for an increase in accessibility and a decrease in discrimination. These types of steps promote a better, safer and more inclusive way of doing business. Although people with disabilities find ways to compensate for the lack of accessibility, the point is that in a world about respecting human rights, equality and social justice for all, they shouldn’t have to.
Not giving people a chance because of a weakness is also dismissing all their strengths. A weakness can even be someone’s strength. Cicely, head of Cicely Blain Consulting, turns challenges into inspiration, boldness and a unique insight into how people and businesses work. Doing something about accessibility, means thinking about long-term benefits and demonstrates fairness, compromise and understanding among employers, employees and clients.