Discovering my lacunae

Yesterday we went to the mall. I know, between month end and extended Black Friday specials (cause apparently that’s now a thing in SA) it’s insanity. But the wife has been going stir crazy from her maternity leave, and we had woken up to the news that her grandmother had passed, so I decided getting out of the house was more important than avoiding the crowds.

We just strolled aimlessly through the shops, not looking for anything specific (our Christmas shopping was completed weeks ago already), but I quickly became frustrated.

I was pushing Elizabeth in her stroller, and time and time again I found myself having to back up as I ran into dead ends. Well, not really dead ends, but due to products stacked on the floor or the way the shelves were arranged there was no way for the stroller to get past (these weren’t the types of stores where people use shopping carts).

And as I was backing up for the umpteenth time it hit me: to a person in a wheelchair these shops might as well be closed. I don’t think the owners, manager and employees of those shops even realise it, but they’re excluding an entire group of people from shopping there.

A few minutes later, as if to drive home the point, a child in a wheelchair passed us. His tiny chair would just about fit between the shelves of the one toy store we visited. A parent in a wheelchair trying to buy a Christmas present for their child would be better off shopping online.

And thinking about it later I further realised that, had I not been pushing Elizabeth’s stroller, I would never even have noticed this.

I like to think I care about people, but caring takes conscious effort, and without that effort what you have is unconscious discrimination instead.

When learning to drive one thing was hammered home time and time again: check the blind spot. Before turning, before changing lanes, before pulling away after a stop. Check it, cause that’s where danger will come from.

John Maeda who’s head of design and inclusion at Automattic prefers the term “lacuna” as “blind spot”, says he, is in itself discriminating. This incident revealed a lacuna to me, of which I’m glad. For the only way to prevent unconscious discrimination is to be aware of our lacunae – you can’t work on improving something if you don’t even know it’s there.

4 thoughts on “Discovering my lacunae

  1. My partner’s become partially sighted and, if that isn’t enough, has enough trouble with her ankle that at times getting around is a struggle, all of which has sensitized me to disability issues. It’s so easy not to think about them until they affect you or someone close to you. I salute you for noticing before life clonked you on the head with a reason to.

    1. You know, I’d love to take the credit, but I doubt I would have noticed it had Automattic not hired someone whose job is to make us aware of stuff like this.

      But just like we’re not all straight, white, Christian males, we don’t all have fully functioning eyes, ears, legs, arms, or even minds. Race, religion and gender is something that’s in our faces every day (for most of us, at least), but you don’t see people with other needs all that often, and as the proverb says, out of sight…

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