Saturday, October 31, 2015

Accessibility Should Be The Default Setting

Picture of my own Teal Pumpkin.
I learned about the Teal Pumpkin Project on the radio last year.  Full disclosure: I hate radio.  I find well over half of radio DJs entirely reprehensible.  This was a pretty good if tame example of why... they'd dedicated an entire segment of their morning decrying the project as being about "oversensitivity" among other vile accusations.

Somebody called in to explain that as somebody who grew up with life-threatening food allergies, Halloween was never fun for her.  And, well, I can imagine.  The Teal Pumpkin Project is simple:  Put a teal-colored pumpkin with a sign out during Trick or Treat, and people with food allergies or parents of kids with food allergies know that there are non-food treats available.

The radio DJs wishiwashily recanted, because a radio DJ's job is basically to say something shitty and then fake apologize when somebody calls in, but since then I've actually been really excited about the possibility.  Accessibility is something extremely important to me, as somebody who has spent a lot of time not being accommodated.  And I don't have any life-threatening food allergies.  I can very easily decide that what symptoms I get are worth it for the time being.  A lot of kids can't do that.  So based on what allergy they have and how severe it is, a Halloween experience may range from a mild inconvenience as parents replace the candy with allergens in it with other ones to a literal life-threatening event if even contact or inhalation will cause that kind of reaction.  I lived in an area with no trick or treaters last year and was very pumped to participate this year.

That's why it's kind of enraging to see the amount of backlash against it.  I mean, this is an optional thing to do.  Nobody is saying you have to accommodate people with allergies.  Furthermore, you have the option to give candy, but have non-food treats as an extra option for kids who have food allergies.  And yet the comments on the articles about this are just astounding with the apparent offense people are taking to this project, including people who have (or claim to have) allergies or children with allergies.

Some of the more common criticisms?  "Oversensitivity" and "taking the fun out of a holiday" were the common ones among those who did not claim any food allergies.  "It's not that hard for me to sort out the candy afterward" and "it makes my kid stick out even more" topped the parents' comments.  Most of the ones from allergic adults echoed the parents.  One total asshole made an argument about natural selection.

Again, over something that is totally optional within a totally optional activity.  You don't need to participate in Halloween at all let alone participate in this project, but apparently it's offensive.

People have some irritatingly idyllic opinions about The Way Things Were, and accessibility tends to bear a lot of ire because of it.  The way people tell this story, there was once a time long long ago when Halloween was fun and people didn't complain about things like allergies and offensive costumes.  This is the reality:  In the past, when people had severe allergies, they were flat out not able to participate.  People didn't accommodate them anyway, so why bother?  It's the same story for all the other accessibility measures we take.  The conferences I've gone to often have no-scent/no-perfume policies, which people always treat as useless and annoying.  When people complain about these, what they're ignoring is that people who did have really bad allergies to scents would show up, have a really bad experience, and then never come again.  Since they stopped coming, there was nobody there to confirm that this was even an important issue, so when the scent policies were popping up people acted like they were frivolous and oversensitive.

Accommodation of kids with serious allergies for trick-or-treating is something that should have always been done, but since it wasn't, they merely didn't go out trick-or-treating, so you wouldn't have even known they existed.

Next, on parental supervision.  Yes, it's important that parents of kids with allergies look through their candy, this is like the most no-shit-Sherlock thing you could possibly say about the subject.  I don't get why this is actually an argument, though... accommodating allergies when you hand out treats means fewer treats the parents will have to remove or replace.  This argument tends to be used by people who have allergies or parents of kids who have allergies... but not all allergies are the same.  There are people out there who can't even be in the vicinity of a peanut without going into anaphylactic shock.  Just sorting out their candy is not an option.

There are kids who were unable to trick-or-treat due to allergies that severe whose parents plan Teal Pumpkin routes for them.  They weren't able to participate.  Now they can.  Doesn't that mean something?

Speaking of which, the next criticism:  It makes allergic kids stand out.  "My kid doesn't want special treatment!" one parent said.

I'm pretty sure that's the parents' opinion more than the kid's, but as kids can be cruel there are certainly those out there who are embarrassed about medical and accessibility needs, whether that accessibility is due to an allergy or due to some other thing, because they don't want to be The Weird Kid.  Here's the problem:  We've turned "special treatment" into this dirty word seeping with the assumption of over-entitlement.  Over things that people should have a right to.  The fact that people shame kids for having needs doesn't erase the fact that they have those needs, and pretending they can get by with nobody ever accommodating their allergies is serious ignorance.  Do the same people get angry that labels identify that there are common allergens in foods, too?  I mean, they could just read the ingredients, memorizing even the more obscure names for them straight from the womb; how very entitled are they to expect accommodation!

But here's the thing that really gets to me.  I've made it clear that, like Halloween itself, the Teal Pumpkin project is voluntary.  Nobody is forcing you to do it, and in fact there aren't even that many cases of pressuring people to do it.

But why aren't we pressuring people?

I'm not saying you need to paint a pumpkin teal.  What I'm saying is that the Teal Pumpkin Project exists because people do not care enough about accessibility as it is.  Accessibility should be a default setting.  We know there are kids with allergies.  One of the critiques I read literally justified her hatred of the Teal Pumpkin Project by citing the fact that her neighbors knew about her allergies and kept a special treat for her.  If people regularly did things like this, we wouldn't need the project!  The fact is, people don't accommodate each other enough, and when they do they complain about it and act like it's a massive impingement on their freedoms.

No wonder kids--and adults--feel alienated by accessibility.  People have trained them to feel like having their needs met, having their differences acknowledged and accommodated, like that's something horrible and burdensome that nobody should be obligated to do.

Finally, just a fun one for closing, here's an article largely about a woman who is angry about the Teal Pumpkin Project........ because people called her out for trying to participate in it while not following the rules by handing out juice boxes instead of non-food treats.  Because "toys are too expensive."  Because juice boxes aren't?
Teal Pumpkin Project Not A Smash Hit For Everyone