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.