You’re visiting a big city; a place you’ve always wanted to see because it is so culturally and historically significant. Imagine you’ve just paid to take a tour of a world famous landmark, only to discover it is in a foreign language. You can’t understand the guide as she points, you can’t laugh at her anecdotes, and you can’t feel the power in her words as she describes a tragedy. Now imagine this is happening to you in your very own country! Welcome to the world of the deaf traveler.
Accessibility means providing all patrons with an equal experience and, sadly, we are still not a fully deaf-accessible country. In fact, having lived in New York City for the past year, I can attest that even the biggest city on the eastern seaboard is not very accommodating to the deaf. It truly pains me to say that! Too often, I see deaf individuals lost: not knowing that a subway line has changed, because they couldn’t hear the announcement. Nearly every time I set foot into a waiting room, I notice that the closed captioning has not been turned on for deaf patrons. If deaf tourists ask me where they should visit, the list of places where they can get an ASL-guided tour is shockingly short. When sitting in JFK airport, I wonder who will explain to the deaf passengers what is happening if there is an emergency.
“Wow, I hadn’t even thought about that!” This is the reaction I usually receive when pointing out unequal provisions. I almost never hold individuals responsible for lack of accessibility, since I understand that to be the truth. If you are not deaf, or do not have deaf friends or family members, you probably do not think about providing captioning or interpreters for equal access. Unless you are a hearing person who works within the deaf community, accommodating deaf needs can remain a bit of a mystery to you, and that is not necessarily your fault, Deaf culture is one-of-a-kind!
Accessibility should not fall on the shoulders of individual citizens, it starts at the top down. It starts with laws and corporate requirements. Accessibility is something that our society needs to institutionalize if we ever want to ensure it happens. It is the expectation of equality, which we should all demand as citizens. If we do, it will be a gradual shift until we reach a point where each of us don’t have to think about equal access, it is just there. This will only happen when we make the heads of these organizations assign a higher value on the customer experience they provide. This will only happen when a city landmark, tourist attraction, or public transportation line acknowledges the driving force behind their business is the individual.
Sure, each person may feel overwhelmed in the face of unequal access, but we have the power to create subtle societal shifts. We have the power to complain to the manager each and every time captioning is not provided when it should be. Until one day, that manager complains to his boss and so on. We have the power to write to our local lawmakers about tax money funding organizations that do not serve the deaf. Until one day, they see how important that is to all of us, and require equal access. We have the power to start the snowball rolling down the hill, and we should not be shy about using it! Equality does not exclude race or gender or religion or ability, or it is not equality. Period.