First come first serve vs. priority. What’s fair in the world of disability?


There was a house for rent last week that would have worked for Brendan Bjorn’s needs. There was a 2nd sitting room on the ground floor which could have been his bedroom. And while the house was furnished (we need unfurnished because of all his medical equipment and supplies), it could have worked. Not ideal, but again, we definitely could have made it work. I learned in an email after the house had been let, that the owner and his wife had heard of our story and very kindly wished us the best in finding a home.

But – and this is the crux of this current piece – they felt the fair thing to do was to rent it on a first come, first serve basis.

Part of me can understand that train of thought. In many aspects of life, that philosophy works. When you go to get a coffee at the local shop, you wait your turn in the queue. When you enter the drive through at McDonald’s with your kids, it’s first come first serve. I get it. But when it comes to the special, and often complex, needs of the disabled, applying the first come, first serve ideal usually doesn’t work.

There is a reason the disabled parking spots are closest to the store.

When it comes to people who are disabled and have complex, medically fragile needs, there is a reason they are (or should be) placed at the very top of waiting lists, be it housing or medical – because their very life can depend on that service NOT being first come, first serve. Think triage in a hospital ED. Those most in need get seen to first. Why? Because THAT is fair.

Look, I certainly understand that life is not fair. I will, after all, one day lose my first born child. So, no, life is definitely not fair.

I challenge you, dear reader, to consider where in the sand that fairness line should be drawn.

Do we relinquish the idea that those most in need, those with medical fragility or disability, should be tended to first?

Do we take away the parking places closest to the store and just let people with disability park where they may despite the hardship it would undoubtedly cause?

And should we apply the first come, first serve mindset in housing too, be it rental or social housing?

A point to contemplate: If the answer to this last question is yes, it means the most vulnerable people in our society are being left to fight for a place to call home amongst the thousands of other people who are also searching for a home – but those people can actually fight amongst the crowd. THAT is the difference between equal and fair.

I ask you, what is most fair in this often tragically unfair world of ours?

equal fair


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