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“With empathy, understanding and awareness everyone can Access Earth”

By Matt McCann, CEO and co-founder, Access Earth

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Matt Access Earth

As someone who has used mobility devices my entire life (and a wheelchair for a not insignificant amount of that), I am intimately aware of both the trials and challenges faced during their use but also the benefits and independence doing so instils in one’s heart.

Growing up I had the privilege of seeing the world develop for the better, in terms of disability activism and accessibility awareness.

Even the pandemic provided us all with an opportunity to become a more universally accessible society with working from home and remote options being made more common in the work place.

A major initiative championed for so long by our community.

Not all these changes had a positive accessible impact, however.

Poorly thought-out table placement for temporary outdoor dining has created additional obstacles for people with physical and visual disabilities, but this is just a symptom of a wider issue.

An issue that risks us returning to old, ableist ways of doing things.

A risk that was perfectly encapsulated by what happened to Israel’s Water and Energy Minister, Karine Elharrar at COP26 last year.

Karine Elharrar, a wheelchair user, was unable to attend this crucial climate event with fellow leaders due to a failure in accessibility-related foresight, a month before International Day of People with Disabilities.

This incident would have never happened had accessibility not been relegated to an afterthought, like it so often is.

I have frequently experienced similar circumstances myself, being refused entry or being forced to put myself in an uncomfortable situation to accommodate a venue’s lack of accessibility.

On one occasion I had to struggle up a flight of stairs on stage to accept a prize for the work my own company, Access Earth, were doing for accessibility!

At no point did the organisers think to themselves the simple, practical fact, how would I get on stage?

These experiences felt by Karine Elharrar and I are by no means unique to just the two of us and nor are they a rare occurrence.

There are over one billion people in the world with a form of disability according to the WHO.

This number is increasing due to demographic trends and increases in chronic health conditions, among other causes.

In countries with life expectancies over 70 years, individuals spend on average about eight years, or 11.5 per cent of their life span, living with disabilities.

Accessibility is a very real concern that everyone will face at some point in their lives and without conscious consideration towards accessibility needs, we will fall into the trap of designing environments we may all eventually age out of and exclude others from.

If I had one wish, it would simply be to embed in the hearts, mind and soul of every living person this conscious consideration.

With empathy, understanding, knowledge and awareness we can drive our society forward so everyone can Access Earth.

Matt McCann is the CEO and co-founder of Access Earth.

Matt lives his life with cerebral palsy and used his personal lived experiences to create Access Earth and is building the world’s largest database of accessibility information.

To find out more about Matt and Access Earth visit www.accessearth.com.

This is an excerpt from our Special Report: Wheelchair and Powerchair Innovations for an Open World

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