By Michael Rock:
One near-constant that people with disabilities and their loved ones face at some point or another is the pain of judgement at the hands of strangers while in public. Fortunately, there are an increasing number of spaces that are designed or adapted in a way that allows people with disabilities to be themselves without fear.
On March 31, 2019, the Cincinnati Ballet put on a sensory-friendly version of their child-friendly ballet based on the story of Aladdin. The ballet company worked with Cincinnati Children’s Hospital to make the show as inclusive as possible, which included less intense lighting, freedom of movement, and the ability to bring outside snacks. There were also Arabian Nights-themed activities for the children in the lobby of the Proctor and Gamble Hall at the Aronoff Center where the show took place.
Meanwhile, many college and university campuses are making their freshmen orientations more inclusive to neurodiverse incoming students. At the College of William and Mary, a pre-orientation for students with developmental disabilities has taken place, which includes midnight campus tours, group games, and mattress forts. All activities are optional, and students may take breaks whenever necessary. Meanwhile, Stanford University has a peer mentoring program, and the City University of New York’s “Project REACH” program includes weekly skills workshops.
Some events, such as New York Comic Con, are not explicitly designed in mind for people with disabilities. However, their focus on cosplay, in which attendees wear often-homemade costumes of their favorite or original characters from different “nerd” fandoms, can allow many people with disabilities to show off their creative skills through their costumes, and to bond with other attendees over shared interests.
In today’s digital era, judgement-free spaces don’t even need to be physical. A mobile app-based video game called “Shadow’s Edge” is designed to help those with chronic illness express themselves and bond with others. The gameplay, influenced by art and cognitive behavioral therapies, allows players to express their frustrations via graffiti, answer questions in hidden journals, and create artwork that they can share with other players. It lacks the traditional linear leveling system of most video games, reflecting the fact that accepting a chronic illness is not a linear process.
Additionally, San Antonio, Texas has been home to Morgan’s Wonderland, the world’s first amusement park specially designed to accommodate people of all ages and abilities, since 2010. Its success has led to a water park extension called Morgan’s Inspiration Island, the first such accessible water park.
While all of these efforts to create judgement-free environments for people with disabilities are admirable, advocates should push to make all spaces as inclusive as possible. Only then will people with disabilities and their loved ones no longer experience the stresses of being judged.
Michael Rock is a New York City-based reporter and self-advocate with autism. A graduate of Brandeis University, his work has appeared in Kings County Politics, Chelsea Now, Our Town, Queens County Politics, and WhoWhatWhy.