In today’s society, where technology has made it possible for people across the spectrum of physical and mental ability to contribute to their communities and be successful, it is unacceptable for public policy to prioritize people of certain abilities. This happens when legislation assumes a “default” that excludes people based on their physical or mental capabilities. Examples of this include:
- Building regulations that don’t include accessibility structures like ramps, wide doors, elevators, and safe handrails on stairs. Progress has been made with the ADA requiring safety measures such as hearing impaired smoke alarms, but we still have a long way to go.
- Public events that do not have accommodations for physical access, visibility for those who can’t stand or are shorter than average, and options for those who are hard of hearing and/or seeing.
- School policies that lump all differently-abled students together, separating them from students that fit a “norm” and fail to provide them with resources they need to benefit from the education they are entitled to as citizens.
- Public policy that promotes the idea that those with disabilities are unable to work and/or lack the desire to do so.
- Public transportation systems that are not accessible for those in wheelchairs or with other mobility difficulties, compounded by employees who do not know/care how to make access easier, such as properly lowering wheelchair platforms to safe levels, often resulting in physical injury.
These are all issues that need to be specifically addressed by city and community entities whenever relevant policies are being made and reviewed. Whenever events are held, questions about accessibility must be raised. Whenever buildings are constructed, plans must be reviewed with a variety of people in mind. Just as sensitivity readers can point out potential unintended offenses in an author’s work, there must be consultants to review building plans with accessibility in mind.
There is not a magic wand solution to this problem. Dismantling ableist policy requires persistent, intentional action on the part of Public Administration Officials. Here are some actionable ways improvements can be made.
- Local Government HR departments need to make sure that public administration positions are able to be filled by people across the spectrum of ability.
- Current public administrators need to hire consultants that fill gaps in their perspective. If they are non-disabled or have a specific condition, infrastructure and event plans should always be reviewed by people with different life experiences and outlooks to make sure that public services serve a diverse public.
- Public administration educational programs should highlight strategies for building inclusive public policies
Are you in public administration? How do you build inclusive programs for everyone? Are you affected by public policy? How do you wish it would be more inclusive for you?