JJ Barnes

JJ Barnes writes about parenting, feminism, current affairs and writing

By - JJBarnes

Why are we so entitled and selfish that we won’t make space to accommodate people with disabilities without a fight?

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I wrote recently about privileges and my own experiences with male privilege, white privilege and class privilege. But I only touched on able-bodied privilege. But able-bodied privilege is something I benefit from every day. It is something I haven’t earned, something I haven’t fought for. And it seems to be something so many of us want to fight to keep, at the expense of others.

I have written film scripts that I want to get produced, and I love going to the movies. I had never thought about the availability of subtitles for any of the screenings I’ve gone to because I can hear. I’ve never checked if they’re going to be there or not, but the only time I’ve seen subtitles is when I’ve watched foreign language films. I have gone to films late at night, early in the day, weekends and weekdays. I have gone to a variety of different genres. Not once have I seen subtitles. I never really thought about it until recently. Because I never had to.

Then this debate happened. The blogger, who goes by Deaf Girly, argued that subtitles should be shown on more film screenings. Other campaigners argued subtitles should be shown on all film screenings. And the offended were out in force. So many people are certain that being mildly inconvenienced, and I think that is pushing it, by the presence of subtitles is so much worse than not being able to go the cinema at all.

I don’t go to the cinema to read a film.


But you get to go to the cinema. And nobody is forcing you to read the subtitles. If they bother you, ignore them. Just like you ignore their lack of availability.

Pandering to a few and annoying the many.


There are 11 million people in the UK who are deaf or hard of hearing. Then more where English isn’t their first language and might benefit from the words written down as well. It isn’t pandering, it’s opening up an experience to 11 million people who are currently excluded because we can’t be bothered to budge up a little.

No they should run special sessions for the Deaf. Then the Majority will not complain, and the deaf people may make friends with other deaf people. Simple win win.


…because deaf people need cordoning off together…separate from The Majority. If they make friends with each other we won’t need to bother with them anymore! This is pretty horrific. Deaf people are not another species, they are not contagious, they don’t need bottling away safely from society. They just need some words on the bottom of the movie screen so they can hang out with their friends and watch a film.

How much control I’d actually have over the showing of any films I manage to make I don’t know, but putting subtitles on seems like a good way to make films enjoyable to a bigger audience whilst not being a selfish dick. “Simple win win”. So, if I can, I will. I will argue for it, I will fight for it. Make any JJ Barnes film have subtitles on EVERY screening. Because words across the bottom of the screen damages nobody, but opens up an experience to so many who are excluded for no reason beyond our own entitled selfishness.

We are so against being inconvenienced for the benefit of others that even shop layout design is prioritised. Aesthetics matter more than wheelchair users being able to get into shops. Is it because wheelchair users’ custom isn’t wanted? Their money is no good? Or is it because able-bodied privilege means we don’t have to think about it, so we simply don’t care.

Wheelchair access

My only experience of whether I can get into shops with wheels is when my children were small enough to be in prams or buggies. And lack of ramps and access was an inconvenience. When there were shops I couldn’t go into because I couldn’t get in, it was annoying. When cars were parked over the curb and my only option was to push my pram out into busy traffic, it was dangerous. When people acted like my pram was a massive nuisance in their day to day life because I took up extra space, it was irritating. But I could carry my child if I needed to. I could fold the buggy up to get on a train. I could physically lift the pram into places without ramps if it was important. And, most importantly, it was short lived. My children walk around now. No more wheels. I can go back to existing in this world without having to work out if I’ll be able to get to where I need to go.

The world is built for people like me, people without disabilities. It’s built for people who can see, people who can hear, and people who can walk, and we find making changes to accommodate the needs of others to be so offensive that we’ll campaign against doing it. We won’t make space for those who need it, because it takes a slice of our own space. Space we are no less deserving of than anyone else, but it’s ours through luck of the draw and we’ll fight for it.

We need more voices from people with disabilities to be amplified because our world isn’t yet set up to allow them to exist without hinderance. Because we can still design things like this light-switch, when putting it a bit lower would inconvenience nobody. But we do not have to think about it, and the voices of those who DO have to think about it aren’t listened to.

As a person without disabilities, I am free to move around the country, watch what I want to watch, go where I want to go, without having to think about it. If a train is busy, I can huddle, if a lift is broken I can take the stairs. If a tap only stays on as long as you’re pushing down on it, I can hold it down. If a switch is up high, I can reach it. I have never had to fight for access to anything, because I’m automatically accommodated for without thought. And, I am ashamed to say, this is something I have completely taken for granted.

I am seen on every screen, accommodated for in every shop and restaurant, space is given to me on all public transport. So I need to make room, we need to make room, and we need other voices to be heard. People with bodies like mine are not the only people on this planet, and my body does not make me matter any more, or deserving of any more respect. We didn’t earn this privilege and it’s time to give it up and make room for others.

Books by JJ Barnes
Click the picture for books written by JJ Barnes. All available in paperback, kindle, and free to read on kindle unlimited.

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