Accommodation, Fairness, and Uniformity

By Joel Smith.

I talk a lot about things like inclusion, equality, and access.

Unfortunately some people think I’m talking about “uniformity”. I’m not! In fact, I absolutely oppose the idea of uniformity as a means of accommodating disability.

Okay, so what are the differences between inclusion and uniformity? It’s simple: Inclusion works to include people. That means sometimes things will have to be done differently for one person than they will be done for another. Uniformity means that everyone is held to the same standard and that there are no special “access” provisions for a subset of people. Everyone has to be able to make do with what is provided in uniformity. This means that many, if not most, “uniform” access policies exclude people for whom the “uniform” access method is not workable. It’s a policy of exclusion, not inclusion. A policy of inclusion is flexible, with the understanding that the proper means of including might be unique to the individual – and in fact in some cases, that method would only fit one person on the planet.

Another concept that gets thrown around is “fairness”. It’s often said that disability accommodations are “unfair” to people who don’t get the accommodations. It’s “unfair” that some people “get” to park closer to the front door of the store. It’s “unfair” that others get longer to complete an essay test. Yet, this idea of fairness flat out ignores individual differences, and relegates all people to uniformity. If you aren’t good at being “uniform”, well, too bad. It says, “Don’t shop if you can’t move easily, stay at home. Don’t get a college degree if you can’t write quickly.” Now in my mind, that’s not exactly fair either.

It is about time that more people start noticing the call for “uniformity” and “fairness” when a disability accommodation is denied. I know of no law that allows for such denials, and certainly the morals of it are questionable (except by people who think disabled people *deserve* exclusion). Yet, this “uniformity” is one of the most common ways disability accommodations are denied. You can spot a few variations, such as my favorite one, “If we gave this to Bob, we’d have to give it to everyone” (often times, giving it to everyone wouldn’t be a bad idea) or my second-favorite excuse, “It’s impossible to accommodate everyone, so we have to be fair and not make any exceptions.”

If you spot these – even if they aren’t directed at an accommodation you requested, speak up. Let the person know that their concepts of “fairness” and “uniformity” are little more than value judgments that deny the existence of disability.