Image Alt-Text: This image is a comment screen-captured from Medium.com. It reads: Right here, a perfect illustration of the difference between accessibility (always already accessible for ALL) and accommodation (“We have to go out of our way JUST FOR YOU.”). The whole paradigm must change for this behavior to stop.

When I was studying disability law in law school, I had to learn how to spell accommodation correctly—two Cs, two Ms—a long, arduous word, with lots of extra letters.

The word “judgment,” alternatively, only contains one E when it is written by a lawyer. A sure way to tell a non-lawyer is the insertion of an extra E after the G: “judgement.” A similar sign of a non-lawyer is an S in the abbreviation of “versus.” After I became a law professor, I gave my students this mnemonic:

Tyson vs. Holyfield—That’s a boxing match.

Holyfield v. Tyson—That’s an assault and battery claim arising from a particular injury to Holyfield’s ear.

After a while, of course, my students had no idea what injury I was talking about. That particularly gory bout had slipped from the popular consciousness.

The point is, every term in law has its spelling, and with its spelling, its meaning, and with its meaning, its baggage.

Accommodation. A long, arduous word. And what does it mean? Meeting the needs of? Assisting? Making extra space for? That’s it. It means extra. Doing something extra.

Recently, I read a story on Medium by Brittany Quinn that’s been making the rounds on social media about her terrible experience at the Seattle Airport’s security checkpoint. She has an invisible physical disability, and the TSA officers gave her some serious hassle about accommodating her.

The problem, of course, is that we as a society approach disability as something to be accommodated. We create spaces that are inaccessible, and then we say, “Should someone with a disability need to enter here, we will make special accommodations so they can.” Because that’s the deal with accommodations: they are always special.

And when you are asking underpaid, overworked, annoyed (wouldn’t you be?) federal employees to do something special, they’re going to get bitchy a high percentage of the time. Quinn, the author of the piece, joked about needing to wear her parking pass around her neck to prove she has a disability—to prove she deserves accommodation.

But what this incident proves is that our society’s approach to disability is wrong from the get-go.

Accommodation is not accessibility.

If a space is accessible, that space is always, 100% of the time, welcoming to people with disabilities. People with disabilities do not have to ask for anything. They do not have to prove they have disabilities. They do not have to interact with gatekeepers.

They can simply be. 

This post is long enough. I have more to say on this, so this post is only Part 1. Part 2 comes tomorrow.

Read all my writing on disability and mental health: published pieces and blog posts.

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