Accommodations and Defaults

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Saw this today. It’s not a secret but something wonderful that was handed private to a customer by a barista at a Starbucks in Leesburg, Va.” – comment on the PostSecret postcard above

There are policies about accessibility–and they are important, there is a place and a need for them.  There are technological solutions–in fact, you can order online and go pick up your order without really having to talk to anyone (which appears to be what this customer had done prior to being handed this note).  And those too, have their uses.

But this is so much better.  Instead of asking a person who has, I’m guessing, either a hearing or speech-impairment to accommodate everyone who does not speak sign language, this barista is making an effort to speak this customer’s language.

There is no reason that those of us with fully functioning legs could not walk up and down a ramp.  That those of us without arthritis could not use a lever door handle.  That children without disabilities could not play on a playground with features that make it safe and playable for all children.  There are plenty of cases where other factors may come into play, but the times when it’s a matter of choosing this or that type of door handle–why is inclusion not the default?  And if it is a little more effort to design something a certain way or takes a little more space or–why is it that we make people who have struggled their entire lives in a world not built for them, to work even harder to accommodate the rest of us?



Every time some college students dress in blackface for Halloween or someone reignites the call for the name change of the DC football team or any other sports team named after a group of people, people get so quick to draw on both sides that we lose an opportunity to understand the history and why it hurts, to learn how to be respectful instead of simply trying to be inoffensive. I’m not sure what’s a good way to go about that, but I am certain that we’re generally missing the mark.

And so it was refreshing to read about the way in which the Seminole tribe works together with Florida State to celebrate its history, to keep it alive.  The “hey, don’t assume we’ll be offended or not.  Don’t speak on our behalf.  We will speak for ourselves.  We can work together so that you don’t misrepresent us.”  The exact approach won’t work for every instance, but what makes the difference here is that the Seminole tribe plays an active role in how the name is used and how the story is told.

So often it is not about who uses what words or or names tells whose stories so much as doing it without the history, without the context, without understanding or even attempting to understand.  Because we also lose when we let some stories be untold out of fear.  Because a censored history can be just as bad as an incorrect one.