12 August 2008

Fat and disability activism, when small changes make a difference

I was walking in the park on Sunday and I noticed a new addition. At first I thought the park bench had been vandalised, but then I noticed that the gap was intentional. Then the penny dropped: it's an accessible bench, designed for a wheelchair user to sit with non-disabled people.

It's not the first time I've seen accessible park furniture in Newham, where I live. At another local park there is a roundabout designed so that a wheelchair can be strapped onto it. But I felt moved by this peaceful bench and it reminded me of the idea that small changes can make a significant difference in people's quality of life, and that considerable attitudinal change can be exemplified by very mundane things. It's not so long ago that the idea of disabled and non-disabled kids – and adults – mixing together was unimaginable.

So this led to a train of thought, one to which I often return, about what a world that was trying to challenge fatphobia might look like, and what the small, everyday differences between now and then might be. I concluded that accessible park furniture is definitely up there on my own personal wish-list.

There's another thread to this discussion, which I'll come back to another time, which is about so-called obesogenic environments. Places that encourage people to be fat. There's a lot of bunkum tied up in this discourse, but I'm interested in taking it in a different direction and thinking more closely about what a fat-friendly environment could look like.

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