Image description: New international access icon. A white figure on square blue background with rounded edges representing a disabled person actively propelling their wheelchair.
Image credit: Sara Hendren & Brian Glenney
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Each of us knows we are not our friends’ and families’ number one priority. Important, yes. Top of the list, no. Most of us, though, don’t have to face the evidence of a loved one’s blatant disregard for our comfort, safety, and well-being every time we approach their home. As person who uses a wheelchair, I do.

Every time a friend or family member buys, builds, or rents a place I can’t enter, they cut out a piece of my heart. They add to the vast and escalating segregation of my life. I feel unseen, unimportant, and unwelcome. Every time it happens a less-than-lovely voice in my head whispers, Well, that’s not a very smart choice. Don’t you understand that as you age/have babies/grow your circle of friends, you and they will be grateful for universal design. Universal design works for everyone, in every stage of their life. That voice might be less than lovely, but it’s not wrong.

When you break a leg or have surgery on your knee, you’ll be glad you don’t have to try hop up those steps with no rail to hang onto. I’ll be glad, too. When your child brings their baby over, you’ll be glad neither of you has to haul that buggy up the steps. I’ll be glad, too. When it comes time to sell, and you have multiple bids because in addition to the usual real-estate hungry first-time buyers you’ll have all those whose choices are usually severely limited by the availability of accessible space—crips, old people, people with small children, and smart people with friends and relatives—you’ll be very, very glad. Supply and demand, baby. Universal design is a good investment.

Disabled people are 20% of the population. You know one of us whether you realise it or not. Why aren’t you paying attention? Why aren’t you being smart? Universal design is good for you, your friends, and your bank account. Also, it makes me glad; it heals my heart.