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Fighting Everyday Ableism: Getting the Sign at the Sports Park Removed!

“There is no shortcut to success. You have to take the stairs.”

At first glance, it appears there is nothing wrong with this statement. Just a light-hearted, motivational prompt for members of Exeter’s Russell Seal Fitness Centre. However, the first time I stepped into the Sports Park, I took issue with this statement, and its placement at being right next to the lift. Here is why.

Ableism is an issue that is so integrated with everyday language, that it is incredibly difficult to identify. Discrimination against disabled people comes in all shapes and sizes, such a using ableist language, or failing to provide an accessible toilet in a restaurant. Being disabled has highlighted just how much of an issue ableism is in our society today, and my first mission: to voice my concerns over the need to ‘take the stairs’.

Most days I manage to get to the gym, I have to take the lift. I mostly attend without my wheelchair, and every time I get in or out the lift, I see this huge sign, pretty much calling me a failure. The emphasis on taking the stairs completely invalidates all the people who have attended the gym yet have to use the lift at the end of their session.

I emailed the Fitness Centre, expressing my discomfort regarding the sign, and asking for it to be removed and replaced with something more inclusive. Within days I got a response saying that they had acknowledged the issue and would get back to me soon. After this, I didn’t think much would come of it, but how wrong I was!

The reply was so positive, so understanding and so overwhelming, that it brought me to tears. I had spoken out against the discrimination of disabled people, and I had been heard. The reply stated that

“We appreciate all our customers providing feedback on all aspects of the Russell Seal Fitness Centre, therefore I would like to say thank you for bringing this to our attention. It is most helpful that we understand your point of view.

I apologise that you feel strongly enough to voice your disappointment in this sign. Following your feedback, we do feel that the sign should be changed and replaced as we would not like to see any potential misinterpretation.”

The team at Exeter University’s gym listened and are replacing the sign. I never thought that I wold be able to make any kind of change, but this has proved me wrong. It may seem small and insignificant (so I keep being told by twitter trolls), but to me, ableism is an important issue that must be advocated for. I encourage you to speak out against ableism, whether it be your friends using a harmful word or a tutor failing to provide accessibility – you can make change!

For now, I will end this article with a quote that I feel sums up ableism in a nutshell: “Privilege is when you think something isn’t a problem, because it’s not a problem to you personally.”

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