Here in the United States, we tend toward individual solutions, even when structural solutions would do a much better job at fixing things. The ADA has existed for my son’s entire life, but it’s still up to us to figure out whether a location is going to be accessible. The process of figuring out accessibility concerns in advance places a time and planning burden on people with disabilities, and the amount of pre-planning that is required to do basic things that abled people take for granted is immense.

Now that I’ve given up on being a bulldozer mom, I’m learning how to be more assertive about accessibility needs, and at the same time, I’m teaching my son how and when to pick a fight over accessibility. In scenarios where there is likely to be pushback, I take the lead as the adult. In scenarios like the movie theater, where staff is (usually) trained and compliant with ADA requests for closed captioning, I nudge him to make the request.

Our major accessibility concern recently has been less about the built environment and more about the way we all behave in public spaces. The lack of COVID-19 mitigation strategies in most of public life creates a substantial accessibility burden for children and youth with medically complex disabilities. Children like my son are at much higher risk for death and serious illness from COVID than children without underlying medical conditions. To pursue their right to an education, medically complex children have to either accept the substantial risk of COVID transmission in classrooms with unmasked, frequently sick and symptomatic classmates, or opt out of in-person school entirely. It’s in scenarios like these—where the potential for harm is high, but the pushback on accommodations is frequently hostile—that I don’t have any good guidance to give him.

Read the full article about accessibility by Jennifer McLelland at YES! Magazine.