Radical Access

The disability rights movement has made accessibility a central demand but all too often it presents a limited view of what access is.

What does access really mean? Who gets included in our struggles for access? Who gets left out? Fighting for accessibility often means fighting for access for a few disabled people at the expense of the rest of us.

Physical access means nothing to someone with an intellectual disability, who is psychiatrized, who doesn't have status and could be deported once they go up the ramp, who faces overt, subtle or systemic sexism, racism, heterosexism, ageism, or classism.

The fight isn't just about ramps.

Disabled people can be people without status, we can be we can be poor people, we can be radicalized people, we can be women, we can be trans or queer. In fact, most of us are marginalized in more than one way and we all need access.

Calling for accessibility without ensuring inclusion for all is not access, it is calling for certain disabled people to be able to have access to the privilege they would otherwise be entitled to if they were not disabled.

Typically, the discussion about accessability happens outside of the context, of other oppressions as if disabled identities exist in a vacuum – as if the only conversation is about physical access and disability rights regardless of other oppressions.

That is why, rather than talk about accessility, the conversation should be about radical access. We need to think about access in a coalitional way. This means practicing an awareness of how spaces expect certain kinds of bodies and erase others. Organizing towards accessibility means thinking very specifically about who we make room for in our organizations, our workplaces, our classrooms, our homes and who we leave out by our actions, by the language we use and by the physical composition of the space. Thinking about radical access means paying attention to the actual needs of actual people, keeping in mind histories and legacies of oppression and trying to meet those needs, while always expecting and desiring more, different kinds of bodies and more, different kinds of needs.

Radical access does not mean build ramps and stir, it means real and meaningful inclusion of all people, including disabled people. Radical access does not mean making space for someone in spite of their marginality but recognizes that everyone deserves space and that their membership in an oppressed group brings perspectives and experiences that are not only welcome but that are wanted.

The word radical is derived from the Latin meaning "having roots". Radical access is not a fringe idea, it is a fundamental idea looking at what the essence of access means for everyone and fighting to make it happen.