I feel like it’s time we talked about how there is no such thing as universal accessibility. One space cannot be accessible for every single person. And I don’t say that to suggest that we just shouldn’t try making spaces as accessible as possible, but rather to say how important it is that we have multiple, different spaces.
A place that is well-lit and has lots of natural light will help many visually impaired people, but it will be a nightmare for anyone with photo-sensitivity. A small, dimly lit, quiet space might be ideal for somebody with sensory overload, but not for somebody with claustrophobia. A solarpunk utopia where the cities are filled with plants and trees and green might massively help the population’s depression and general spirits, but it would be hell for anyone with autoimmune disorders and allergies.
At the LGBTQ+ Christian group I go to, there are some really flamboyant, loud, and excitable extroverts there, who love to sing their hearts out and clap and dance during worship. There are also people who have sensory issues and anxiety exacerbated by loud noise. It cannot be a safe-space for everyone to express themselves freely, if it’s also a safe space for those with anxiety.
In a learning environment, one child with ADHD may need to bounce their leg or fidget with something in order to concentrate, while another autistic child finds that incredibly distracting and makes them anxious.
A small, tight, cosy space that’s reminiscent of a village pub or small cottage might be ideal for making me feel comfortable, sheltered and reducing my anxiety and social exhaustion, but it wouldn’t be very accessible for a wheelchair user or someone with physical mobility issues. I am both of those people.
Nobody is doing anything wrong, nobody is being victimised by another person, there’s no right and wrong in these situations. It’s just that those people have opposing needs that can’t be accommodated in the same space at the same time. And we need to talk about that.
What’s important is that we create different spaces to cater to a multitude of needs, and that we listen to people’s needs. Most importantly we need to look at which groups of people and which needs are often ignored, and which people have very little access to spaces.