For the past week, my husband and I have been puppy sitting for his sibling. This puppy has turned out to not be house broken and bark all through night and frequently throughout the day. My autistic brain has not been coping so well with frequent, high-pitched, piercing noises invading my house at all hours. After a few nights of minimal sleep and both of our mental states deteriorating, we came up with a plan to attempt to get some sleep.
After setting up the dog inside a play pen with everything she would need for the night except constant undivided attention (since she apparently will not tolerate being alone ever and will loudly let you know), we settled into bed for the night, closing the door and stuffing a towel along the bottom to cut down on noise. After turning up the volume on one of my comfort shows, we attempted to go to sleep. He was managing alright, but, for me, each bark cut through my brain.
As I got closer and closer to yet another meltdown, my husband took one of his pillows and carefully put it around my head as a sound barrier. It was wonderful. The barking was muffled to a low murmur and I was able to focus on my comfort show until I was able to drift off to sleep. For the first time in almost a week, I was able to actually sleep through the night.
Aside from reminding me how awesome my husband is, this instance brought me back to an idea I’ve been contemplating lately: Is my life accessible?
Typically, when we consider accessibility, we’re thinking about schools and employers and businesses. We think of wheelchair ramps, handicap parking, and braille signs. We consider the size of aisles, workplace accommodations, and IEPs. While all of this is important, and it is vital that we continue working to make society more accessible to all, as a multiply disabled person, I want to look at accessibility and accommodations when applied on the personal level.
Accessibility, on a large scale, is a society that is barrier-free and adapted to meet the needs of all people equally. When we break this down to our own lives, we must look at what barriers stand between us and living the best lives we can. For those of us with disabilities, our best life probably isn’t going to look like the societally accepted version of a good life. Depending upon your disabilities and the individual ways they affect you, standard employment may not be a part of this life. Living alone, driving, school, and many other things that society typically considers standard for a good life may not be what works best for you, and that’s ok.
An accessible life isn’t about finding a way to overcome your disabilities or ignore your limits to have the life that everyone thinks you should have. An accessible life is figuring out the things that truly matter to you and finding accommodations and supports to make that happen. Personal accessibility is living a fulfilling life in the way that works best for you, disabilities and all.
To apply accessibility to our own lives, we must first give our day to day lives an honest look. What elements of my life add to my pile of good things and make life more enjoyable? What are things I currently do not or am not able to enjoy but believe would make my life more fulfilling? What are things that drain me of energy without bringing anything positive in return? What are the things that I simply do but are neither positive nor negative?
Once we have our piles of good things, bad things, and neutral things, we can start looking at how to make our lives more accessible. Out of our pile of bad things, what can we eliminate from our lives? There may not be many things that we are able to fully cut out, in which case, we can consider ways to make this element less negative. For instance, working may be something that is necessary but very challenging. With each negative element, we need to consider if the task itself is negative for us or if there are other factors at play in our lives that make this more challenging. For instance, if I don’t get enough sleep, I seriously suffer and everything that is normally somewhat of a challenge becomes nearly insurmountable.
Some of the things in our good things pile may already be accessible to us, which is great. For other things, we need to look at what barriers are in our way and what accommodations we can create for ourselves to increase accessibility.
This will all be a very personal and individual journey. Accessibility on a personal level will look very different for each person so it is impossible to make an easy to follow guide on how to achieve it. Life accessibility will also always be an ongoing process as we continue to take stock of our lives and find our own accommodations.
Check back for the follow up post that will be focusing on life accommodations