For access to be the default and not an “add-on” or a “special need,” access must be a right and not a privilege. Rights are available to everyone while privileges are given to people based upon their social standing. (Learn more about the difference between a right and a privilege.)
When access is treated as a privilege given to those who are worthy of receiving it (an effect of privilege being based upon social standing), there will always be those who need access who are considered by some to be unworthy of receiving that access.
Some people will argue that access is a “special need,” a “privilege,” or an “add-on” to existing places, products, events, and services. This argument is wrong. What they perceive to be “extra” ensures that everyone receives the same right to access. Parts of life are accessed in different ways, which creates different access needs. (“Access needs” can be defined as what is required for a person or people to have their needs — perhaps in a class, at an event, on transport, etc. — fulfilled in a way that provides the same access as others, while using an approach different from what is considered to be standard.) For everyone to have access, “separate but unequal” and “separate but equal” access are not enough: we must have equal, united access, which means providing different forms of access. Meeting the access needs of all helps to provide an equitable and just environment.
A large part of the Disability Rights movement has been about access. The American with Disabilities Act (also known as the ADA) and other laws that center disability rights, were a result of the Disability Rights movement fighting for equal access. However, the ADA and similar laws are not enough — these laws do not go far enough in providing access as a legal right; the laws are not enforced; and the laws do not provide a system of punishment that deters, punishes, or causes change that conforms to the law.
Additionally, Disability Rights groups such as ADAPT (American Disabled for Attendant Programs Today) continue to fight for the right for disabled people to live in the community in our own homes instead of in nursing homes, but there has yet to be a national law passed that will allow us to choose where we live and receive support.
Until these issues are legally addressed, only the most privileged of us will be able to receive the access we need; this reduces access to a privilege instead of a right.