Why accessibility is good for business (according to my mechanic)

Editor’s note: Today we bring you a post from Nicolas Steenhout, originally published on Simply Accessible’s website January 26, 2016. As that website is no longer available, we’ve gotten permission from Nic to republish it here.

I was lucky to find my mechanic, Pete. He was reliable, affordable, and—maybe his most unique characteristic—honest. When Pete told me my ’85 Ford Mustang hatchback needed a new radiator, I knew he wasn’t up-selling me or jerking me around. He got the work done quickly and he got it done well. What’s more, he didn’t hunt for issues to fix above and beyond what he quoted me. Pete was a gem.

There was only one problem.

A single, 6 inch step that stood between my wheelchair and Pete’s office. Most people wouldn’t even notice, but it was enough of a hindrance that I couldn’t get into the garage.

Each time I needed to have work done on my car, I’d have to call ahead and make sure Pete or one of his employees could meet me in the yard to discuss the issues with my car, get the keys, or arrange payment. (This was in Illinois in the mid-1990’s—long before cellphones were popular.) Most times, it worked out okay, but I vividly remember two occasions where it didn’t.

Once, in spite of calling ahead, I waited 20 minutes in Pete’s yard, right on the asphalt, with no shade overhead, 100ºF (38ºC) heat, and full Chicago humidity. The second time was the opposite extreme: same spot, middle of winter, -10ºF (-23ºC), and windy. I was, quite literally, left out in the cold. I waited so long I thought my nose was going to fall off.

The experience wasn’t just unpleasant and inconvenient—it was downright dangerous. It was time to talk to Pete.

“Pete, you’d do yourself and people with disabilities a great service if you put in a ramp into your office,” I said.

“Why should I?” he shrugged. “You’re the only disabled customer I have.”

I looked him straight in the eye. “And why do you think that is, Pete?”

That’s when the penny dropped. Pete’s universe shifted right in front of my eyes.

A few weeks later, Pete invested a couple hundred dollars in materials and put in a ramp. Of course I went and tested it out. It was great. I was able to get in his office for the first time, and it was even easy to get in. We chatted a bit while his guys changed the oil in my Mustang. I sent at least a dozen wheelchair users his way. Everyone needs a good mechanic.


You are not your job

You are not your job.

I need you to understand this at a wholly internalized level.

Your value is not derived from the change in estimation of your company’s dividend.

It is not decided by a committee of leaders who estimate which resources to cut.

They are deciding something, but it is not your value.

Your value is derived from the fact that you are here, you are one of us. If you love no one, if no one loves you, if you are alone in a cave on a hill, you still have enormous value to the rest of us.

“No man is an island entire of itself,” John Donne wrote in 1624. “Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”

The world demands you add value, screams it over the internet, demands of you attention and content and HUSTLE. And how dare you have a hobby you do not monetize? How dare you have emotions you do not broadcast? HOW DARE?

No one is an island unto themselves. But no one has the right to demand you perform for them. Your value is not derived from your output.

When you become unable to work, you will struggle with this.  We all struggle with this. Some of us stop working due to burnout (which is a form of PTSD). Some of us stop working due to layoffs or other job losses. Some of us stop working because our bodies just can’t do it anymore. Some of us end up going back to work and some of us don’t.

And the world will say “you are not contributing so you are worthless” and the world is greedy and short sighted and wrong.

Look, you are a bunch of formerly single cell organisms that millions of years ago  thought it would be a good idea to form a collective so that it was harder for other single cell organisms to munch on them. You are a conglomeration of highly complex systems that decided bananas are a pretty good food source. Your ancestors had value all the way back when the first mitochondria formed and you have millions of times more value today.

You are the only you we will ever get. There is no other you. You are not hot-swappable for a backup.

You are not your job. You are not what you produce. You are exactly who you need to be, and we will never get another one of you.

Be safe. We love you.