Wednesday, December 2, 2009


People with a disability are excluded for one of two reasons. The first reason being that they are actually excluded because of their disability. The other being that they exclude themselves because of their disability. Both may be valid. Both may be wrong.

Two years ago we travelled to Paris, France, truly one of the world’s greatest cities. “C’est magnifique!” I loved it and yet, found it to be a very challenging place to travel to. In a very short time we noticed an absence of people in wheelchairs and soon discovered why. Nothing is accessible. One evening we spent over two hours looking for a bathroom. While we found the people very accommodating, most facilities were not.....which explains why we saw few people in wheelchairs. They are excluded because of physical and structural limitations. (In all fairness to France, the government is quite aware of this problem and is working hard to remedy it.)

People, with or without disabilities, are often excluded because of their own physical limitations. You can’t sit in an exit row of an airplane if you can’t walk. You must be a certain height to ride a rollercoaster. You must weigh under a certain weight to go skydiving. All limitations driven by safety and liability concerns. Very valid. Very reasonable.

Less reasonable or valid are those instances where a person is excluded from participation because it may inconvenience someone else. How much inconvenience should one be expected to endure? Having doorways and aisles that are wide enough for wheelchairs. Putting bars on the wall in bathrooms. Modify a workspace for an employee. That is a personal choice or a subject for our lawmakers to debate. Generally speaking, here in the states there are many laws in place to insure the inclusion and protection of those of us with disabilities.

My bigger concern has to do with the countless instances where a person with a disability has excluded themselves from participating simply because of their disability. We know this happens when we see an absence of, or less than representative participation in activities by those with disabilities. This is true in politics, medicine and business. It is also seen in sporting activities, talent shows and at job fairs. The list goes on and on. Certainly there are exceptions, but it is definitely not the norm…..and it needs to be that.

Much of our world has been made greatly accessible to those of us who have disabilities and yet, we often do not participate. Why? Inconvenience? Embarrassment? Whatever the reason, it may not be good enough.

Not participating means not living life to the fullest. “To the fullest” is different for each one of us. But at the end of our days there is only one question. Did we? Did we visit family and friends? Participate in events and activities for our loved ones and community? Did we do all that we could have done?

Did we go to school or work and make a difference in the world? Did we go skiing, fishing or climb Mount Everest? Did we play sports, travel or go skydiving? Did we go to every concert, presentation or event that we could have and if not, why? The world is filled with people with great physical limitations who do amazing things. The world is also filled with great opportunities for those of us with disabilities.

Those of us with disabilities need to take advantage of what has been made available to us. How can we ask for more or better treatment when we don’t take advantage of what is already there? My personal goal is to increase the visibility of disability. When we do that, or when we have done enough of that, then we can expect our inclusion to be the norm…..even in the most exclusive of settings.

Participate. Make a difference. Live a life that matters.


  1. Dear Michael: What a great article. It is soooo true regarding handicaps, especially when you speak of bathrooms for the handicap. As you are aware I, for the present time have this problem and have found it difficult when going into medical building, homes of friends and find that the handicap toilets can hardley fit yourself, letalone a wheel chair or walker and the toilets being so close the the ground, fit for a child in grade school. I once entered one and was unable to get out and struggled for 1/2 hour, praying for help. I finally got out, but not with a lot of pain to my legs. Your article should be sent to all state capitals and to the federal government, that this needs their attention and needs it NOW.

    You know who this is. Love J.L.

  2. Hi Michael,

    Your goal of making disability visible will help more than it seems. Adding a wheelchair user as an extra in a commercial, no particular highlighting, just being there, is a simple statement that we belong. Use of characters in shows such as Southpark says we belong and we don't have cooties.

    Accessibility says "they" know we belong. Don't get me started — oh, you already did.

    Great article. Needed topic. Thanks.

  3. i agree with your attitude, we will be normal!