free from obstacles

The accessibility of places for people with reduced mobility is called in German „Barrierefreiheit“, which literally translates to „freedom from barriers“. I saw a deeper meaning in this word.

I used to see this accessibility as adding more things like ramps, handrails, and elevators. It should be seen from a different angle though, not as „adding things“ but as „not adding harmful things“.

It is quite simple actually. Stairs, narrow doors, small print, color coding, voice-only announcements – all these are obstacles for some people. Though I am not saying that everyone can do absolutely everything healthy people can do. Many obstacles are natural and unavoidable. It is close to impossible to climb a cliff in a wheelchair.

However new obstacles are created every day without real need for them. Like a stair or two at the entrance to a building: most people won’t even notice them, but this is a man-made obstacle for a stroller or a wheelchair.

So I think that the freedom from barriers does not mean „building a ramp near stairs“, but rather „not building stairs where they are not really needed“. Also not making buttons one can’t find by touch. And not drawing diagrams understandable only for those, who can differentiate between red and green. And not report important information in a way, that only seeing or only hearing can perceive.

If something can be available to all our senses, why ignore most of them? Why build barriers?

Artemy Tregubenko,
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