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Inclusion, accessibility, and equity for all: How we can support our neighbors living with disabilities in our communities.

July 26 marks the 31st anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA is “a comprehensive civil rights law for people with disabilities.”

Disabilities affect roughly 1 in 4 American adults according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That is 61 million people—or roughly 8 times the population of Washington. 

Opportunities for people living with disabilities have come a long way. I had a recent encounter with someone with a disability trying to navigate an environment more suited to able-bodied people. For me, his experience shows we can do more to make our communities healthier, safer, and more resilient through inclusion, accessibility, and equity.

Close-up of Wheelchair 

‘Except for our chance encounter, he would have been invisible.’

I was leaving my produce store when I noticed a customer in a wheelchair trying to cross 4 lanes of traffic on Pacific Avenue in Tacoma. As his hands pushed the wheels, his teeth clenched a big black garbage bag on his lap. 

I offered to carry his bag to where he lived. His English was not good, but he gestured across the street. When I picked up the bag, it was surprisingly heavy, probably 30 pounds. It smelled like dog food was inside. 

It was too far to walk to the nearest traffic light so we waited until traffic paused. He led me down an alley between businesses to a small home with 5 steps leading up to the front porch. I placed the bag by the front door and asked if I could help him up the steps. He shook his head. I think he was too embarrassed to admit he was going to have to crawl up the steps and drag his wheelchair with him. 

As I biked away, I thought about how many obstacles this man faced that I did not have to think about. Except for our chance encounter, he would have been invisible. While his disability was obvious, many others have hearing, visual, or intellectual disabilities that are not apparent. 

Our health equity efforts this past year have focused primarily on racial and ethnic disparities. My encounter reminded me of the need to address physical disabilities. With COVID-19 infections and vaccinations, we have seen disparities by age, religion, political affiliation, and geographic location. We must address many other factors before we can achieve equity for all. 

Become a disability ALLY.

July is Disability Pride Month. The aim is to promote “accepting and honoring each person’s uniqueness and seeing it as a natural and beautiful part of human diversity.” One way to do this is to become a disability ALLY in your community:

  • Acknowledge and respect individual experiences and abilities.
  • Learn about different disability types.
  • Leverage your influence to promote accessibility and inclusion.
  • Yield the floor to people with disabilities to help identify and eliminate barriers.

You may know someone with a disability—a relative, friend, co-worker, or neighbor. The man I encountered in the wheelchair is only one of many in our communities who faces challenges daily. When we see them and become an ALLY, our communities move closer to full inclusion and accessibility and equity for all.