Today we’re going to discuss performative access, sometimes also referred to as access in name only. It’s an example of everyday ableism, though most will point out that it’s not done “deliberately” as though that makes it better.
For starters, performative access is there for organizations to look progressive and accessible without actually needing to put in the work involved. This choice looks different depending on the organization.
For example, a university might install a ramp to grant access to a building. However, the school then locks the door at the top of the ramp to control access to the building since it’s not a main entrance. That’s performative accessibility.
Another example is any company that says employees must ask for accommodation for basic things, like power doors into the building or a specific space inside with heavy doors. They know it’s an issue and could have solved it at any time, but instead, they burden the person who needs the accommodation.
A third example comes from documents. With a few clicks, anyone can create a neurodivergent or dyslexic-friendly document format. It costs nothing to have available in today’s digital environment, but very few organizations do it willingly.
Performative access looks good on paper but shuffles the responsibility off the organization’s shoulders. Every time a disabled person sees “accommodations available upon request,” it’s another requirement they perform emotional labor for that organization. Never mind if they’re trying to work there, which often requires constant emotional labor if you’re disabled.
In the long term, it’s better to create a truly accessible environment rather than start with performative access. There is now so much information available in books, web articles, and more that there is no excuse not to.
We may not know how to do everything perfectly, but we can start. We can push for change in our companies and organizations so everyone has access. It’s part of creating a better world.