Striving to remove barriers that prevent us from building Vibrant, Diverse, Inclusive, Accessible Communities!

 

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The Curb Cut Effect

By Mike Thompson, 17 January, 2024

Imagine embarking on a noble and inclusive Community Building project that would be supportive and inclusive for one or a few marginalized individuals, only to discover that your ideas and actions not only make a significant difference in their lives but also have an even more far-reaching impact, positively affecting thousands or even millions of other people every single day.  This would describe how the Curb Cut Effect actually works.  However, the reality of the history of the phenomenon we call the Curb Cut Effect stands not as a result of well-meaning individuals designing a better world, but instead, as the outcomes of hard-fought advocacy by People with Disabilities struggling against a system which continuously denies Accessibility as a right to them as a marginalized minority. 

Originating from the ongoing passionate advocacy of disability rights activists, the Curb Cut Effect is the result of arduous uphill battles to remove physical, social, and on-line barriers. It serves as a catalyst for change, urging communities to move beyond simple compliance. Embracing Inclusive Design and Accessibility is crucial as we work to remove these barriers. This process is essential for building diverse, vibrant, inclusive, and accessible communities.

Its profound impact is evident in various facets of life, from physical spaces to digital landscapes.  While some may argue that any given accessibility feature designed to remove barriers for even a single person with a disability, representing even the most marginalized minority within any given community, is too cumbersome or too costly, it can have unfathomable implications on their inclusion in community activities and events, clearly making it the morally and ethically correct thing to do in and of itself.
However, much more often, the Curb Cut Effect will have an even more profound impact on the lives of infinitely more people than originally intended, in an incredibly positive way.

Just as in the physical world of sidewalks with curb cuts, we observe a greater number of people utilizing luggage with wheels, baby strollers, shopping carts, bicycles, scooters, skateboards, and various other items compared to those people using wheelchairs benefitting from these curb cuts.  This is the Curb Cut Effect!

Moreover, in the digital realm, features like closed captioning and audio descriptions for video, intended to make content more accessible, transcend their initial purpose. Closed captioning not only aids people who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing but also proves valuable for language learners and individuals in various environments both loud and quiet such as Sports bars and Libraries. Similarly, audio descriptions for video, designed for People who are Blind or have Low Vision, enhance the understanding and enjoyment of content for a much broader audience.

In the realm of community-building initiatives and planning, the Curb Cut Effect emerges as a triumphant example of successful Inclusive Design, actively enhancing accessibility and inclusion and also improving life for infinitely more people than intended. Unfortunately, its numerous benefits are frequently overlooked in our community building efforts.  

The history and struggle of how the Curb Cut Effect came into existance is explained in this video.

 

  • Ed Roberts, who contracted polio at 14, faced extensive paralysis and required an iron lung to breathe. Despite these challenges, he became the first student with a severe disability to attend UC Berkeley. Roberts and his fellow Berkeley students with disabilities took direct action to address the city's inaccessible sidewalks and street corners. Their efforts involved demolishing curbs and installing makeshift curb cuts at night, all while advocating for federal legislation to eliminate barriers for Americans with disabilities. This grassroots activism ultimately led to the passage of the Architectural Barriers Act in 1968, setting the stage for broader legislation like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990, which mandated curb cuts on all U.S. sidewalks, marking a significant triumph for the disability rights movement.
  • Jack Fisher - The Curb Ramps of Kalamazoo: Discovering Our Unrecorded History
  • In 1980, people with disabilities, part of the ADAPT group, used sledgehammers to break curbs, leading Colorado to be the first state to install ramps on sidewalks. This bold action was part of ADAPT's ongoing commitment to nonviolent civil disobedience, echoing their earlier success in pushing for wheelchair lifts on buses. The use of sledgehammers not only transformed Colorado's infrastructure but also set the stage for national standards for accessible buses, emphasizing the organization's effectiveness in instigating change.

Now that we have a general idea what the Curb Cut Effect is and how it came to be, let's look at how we can use this powerful  Inclusive Design concept in our own Community Building efforts!  What if we just did the right thing and plan ahead to be inclusive in our design approach?  What if it didn't have to stem from conflict and struggle?  What if it was based on the Baha'i Teachings and the examples of Abdul-Baha instead?

Like Racism, Ableism  "is a profound deviation from the standard of true morality. It deprives a portion of humanity of the opportunity to cultivate and express the full range of their capability and to live a meaningful and flourishing life, while blighting the progress of the rest of humankind. It cannot be rooted out by contest and conflict. It must be supplanted by the establishment of just relationships among individuals, communities, and institutions of society that will uplift all and will not designate anyone as “other”.  -Universal House of Justice July 2020

 

Striving to remove barriers that prevent us from building a Diverse, Vibrant, Inclusive, Accessible Community!

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