If I had a penny for every time someone told me that, upon recounting an instance of inaccessibility, I should sue, I’d probably be able to afford a lawyer. Over 25 years after disability rights gained legal recognition in the UK, and over a decade since the implementation of the Equality Act 2010, most people are aware that being inaccessible is against the law except under very specific circumstances, and even then it’s frowned upon. The problem is that, like most civil laws, it isn’t monitored. There is no government department of disability rights, just a department of “so you think you’re disabled? Prove it”.
The most obvious problem with telling disabled people to sue is finances, particularly as the costs of living with a disability and the disability pay gap mean that disabled people are often among the poorest citizens. Adding to the financial disparity is the fact that a business, even a small one, is probably going to be able to afford a better legal team, meaning court hearings drag on for months or years as blatant displays of ableism are defended by phrasing and the occasional Oxford comma.
Finances are by no means the only problem with telling disabled people to sue, however. The process of trying to sue someone is physically and mentally draining, takes up huge chunks of time that most busy adults simply don’t have, and exposes disabled people to invasive scrutiny over every aspect of their life as the defence attempts to undermine their case with any excuse possible.
However, by far the biggest problem with telling people to sue is that it solves nothing. Inaccessibility is an institutional problem, not an individual one. Inaccessibility is the result of lazy architects, town planners, and business owners, and affects every single disabled person who tries to use that establishment. By placing the burden on individuals, resources that could be pooled together are spread thin, and only individual cases of inaccessibility are potentially resolved, begrudgingly at that. It’s often said that being disabled is its own full-time job, yet on top of this we are expected to monitor accessibility and hold businesses accountable. We become the people responsible for maintaining our own human rights, and it’s exhausting. Sooner or later even the toughest of us will have had enough and give up.
I first came to realise the extent of the issue when, ironically, concerns over the quality of subtitles on my YouTube videos were raised. I did everything I possibly could to rectify the issue but, without spending money or time that I simply didn’t have, I couldn’t provide the high quality of subtitles needed to be properly accessible. It was after several days of searching that I realised that, even if I somehow managed to provide perfect subtitles, every other video on YouTube would remain inaccessible. The problem wasn’t entirely with my channel, but with the lack of resources made available to me so that I could make my videos accessible. I was undoubtedly at fault, and eventually took down the channel partly due to this, but without the infrastructure to enable everyone to be accessible in the first place, inaccessibility would persist. Here I was, an individual, toiling away, when a multi-million-dollar corporation could fix the issue without making so much as a dent in their earnings.
Individuals fighting individuals solves nothing. A house divided cannot stand. Disabled people should not have to raise hell at their own expense to get things that, by law, they are already due. All you achieve by telling disabled people that they should sue is a pissed off disabled person, and an unresolved issue.