The Equality Act 2010 was brought into UK law a decade ago, with a whole section dedicated to disability & accessibility, yet all these years later many businesses, employers, & even public services remain inaccessible. Why? Because of two teeny tiny, insignificant words that essentially nullify the reams of paper that came before them: reasonable adjustments.
A building has a step in the door but no ramp? Reasonable adjustments.
A website where people upload billions of hours of content that has terrible subtitles? Reasonable adjustments.
A government releases contradictory statements in the midst of a pandemic that are completely inaccessible to an entire demographic of the nation? Incompeten- oh, I mean reasonable adjustments.
It doesn’t matter whether it’s a global corporation or a one-man show, if it’s inaccessible it’s because of the reasonable adjustments clause, & as such I doubt there are two words more despised than this among the disability community (“special needs” & “listed building” are admittedly not far behind).
Part of the problem is that the term “reasonable adjustment” is never clearly defined. It’s not given as a percentage of finances that you might be expected to dedicate to accessibility, or even as standardised advice for fonts & text size for maximum readability. It also makes no effort to demonstrate the many free & easy ways of becoming accessible, such as applying for grants, or providing resources that explain how to make a website accessible. As such, whenever inaccessibility is challenged, nine times out of ten the challenger will be told they are in the wrong because of this clause.
What this boils down to is that my right to access the same places & services as an able-bodied person is unreasonable. My right to apply for any job within my professional scope is denied when I cannot get through the door. My right to buy things from ethical, independent businesses rather than corporations is denied when I cannot enter the shop or have items delivered to me. My right to study my chosen field wherever I choose is denied when I cannot attend my lectures or access the reading material.
If you told most people that this was happening without mentioning disability or accessibility, they would think that it was completely unreasonable. However, as soon as disability is mentioned, it becomes the expectations of the disabled person that are described as unreasonable.
The reasonable adjustments clause is actually the epitome of what is often called performative equality. People know of the Equality Act & of what it is supposed to do, but when you scrutinise the impact for disabled people at least, you’ll see that nothing much has changed.
All because someone, somewhere, thinks that it is unreasonable for disabled people to live like able-bodied people, & there is nothing more deep-rooted in ableism than the idea that my right to have a life is an unreasonable request.