For definitions on the terms used here and an example that breaks down ableism, see my Tackling Ableism post.
NOTE: i think i am probably preaching to the choir here, but i’ve thought a lot about disability justice lately and how movements practice that. (Note: i’m in pain today so capitalization isn’t happening). This was written as an Facebook post in September 2020.
when i ask for accessibility as a disabled person, most abled-bodied (as in non-disabled people) assume that means if the ‘physical space’ is accessible for mobility reasons. it’s a common and not entirely accurate assumption of the ask itself. we are taught to view accessibility only as physical space adjustments, but this is not the only meaning of the word ‘accessible’ and it erases the diverse needs within the disability community.
the needs within the disability community can also improve the lives of those who aren’t disabled; accessibility is about justice for all people, where we create an multi-layered environment that is accessible not just transport-mobility-wise or physical-space-wise but also information-wise and multiple-role-wise.
what do i mean by multi-layered accessibility?
accessibility is about movement through the multi-layered spaces within our society. it’s about mobility.
mobility through physical space, information space, community space, intellectual space, sensory space, transport space, and justice space.
mobility is the way we move in society whether physically through spaces such as buildings or streets. mobility is also how we move figuratively through community relationships.
mobility is how easy it is for us to access information and share information. another form of mobility is the roles we have in a community or in a movement — those roles provide emotional and intellectual spaces where people can exist based on their gifts.
so mobility justice and accessibility is a multi-layered space that exists not just in physical space but also in community-space and information-space and emotional and intellectual space.
we need to be cognizant of these multi-layers when creating events and movements so that we can be accessible to our most vulnerable members of the community.
so when a disabled person asks if something is accessible, we aren’t just asking if we can navigate to and from the event, or if we can understand the information presented (such as is there interpreters, etc), but also if there is a role we can exist within to further the goals of the movement as well as information about the movement and/or event that is easy to access and share.
community care is also reliant on accessibility from a mobility justice framework. we cannot care for one another unless we find ways to center accessibility so that all people feel able to access support systems that may meet the multitude of needs in a diverse community.
to build up community care so that these diverse needs can be explored for possible accessible services and care practices is crucial to the goal of mutual aid efforts and the idea of community care itself.
accessibility is a gift not an add-on. it is a gift that provides a multitude of avenues for people to participate in ways that fits their abilities and energy levels.
if we reframe how we view accessibility, where we see it as a gift that creates more depth and space for all to exist and participate, then we can revolutionize our approach to community and building movements. centering accessibility — and its multi-layered definition that goes beyond just physical space — is crucial to liberation of all people.
our most vulnerable populations are Black disabled trans people, and thus accessibility also needs to be examined from their viewpoint in order to best meet their needs.
when we view it from the viewpoint of our most vulnerable populations, we are creating a multi-layered space that is more accessible for all people, as it is when our most vulnerable populations needs are met that all needs will hopefully be met as well.
that theory of building has shown to be helpful especially in many Black Lives Matter groups around the country and in Indigenous groups, where their centering of the most vulnerable populations often created a fluid accessible multi-layered space that is held accountable to the needs of those communities. it created a creative and dynamic space for the diversity of people to exist.
to remind, the disability community is a vastly diverse community of so many different genders, sexual orientations, races, ethnicities, etc — to center accessibility and the multi-layered tenants of mobility/disability justice means opening up community and movements to a diverse and gifted group of people. it nourishes and inspires more creative ways of existing in relationship with one another.
may we learn and seek understanding. may we hear the voices of the vulnerable and seek to meet their needs. may we create community systems that are accountable to one another and care for one another as we are. may we listen and grow and uplift one another in the work we do.
feel free to offer thoughts or critique what I’ve written here. as a scholar, i read a lot and try to distill ideas into digestible formats, and as long as people speak in good faith to me, i’ll welcome more information and creative exchange!
Bibliography of Sorts
these ideas and definitions are based on the writings of disabled people such as Alice Wong, Imani Barbarin, Matthew Cortland, A. H. Reaume, and other disability activists as well as conversations with local disabled activists.
a great book about this is the anthology: Disability Visibility: First Person Stories from the Twenty-First Century edited by Alice Wong
another great book about this is Mobility Justice by Mimi Sheller.
Care Work: Dreaming of Disability Justice by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
Crafting Accessible Spaces
I typed up the following guide for a friend to assist them with what questions to consider when centering accessibility at their event. May it help all of you as well.
Do you have any questions to add to any of the categories that I may have missed? Is there further details on a suggestion that I could add? Let me know in the comments! I’ll edit this post as needed.
- is the area accessible for limited-mobility folks? As in can we reach it and navigate through it easily?
- If there are speakers, can everyone in the audience hear the speaker? If not, how can the physical space be adjusted so people can hear better or see the interpreter better?
- How do you present any slides — is that easily seen by the entire audience?
- Do an audio-visual description of yourself: describe what you look like, skin tone, hair color and type, clothes, and your immediate surroundings. Have everyone include this in their introductions.
- are your materials easy to read? As in avoid jarring color combinations or too small font?
- Are there interpreters if there are speakers? (This includes ASL as well as spoken languages).
- Do you require everyone to include pronouns in their introductions? (You should.)
- Does your online materials have alt-text and/or captions for those with sight and hearing disabilities?
- Is information on accessibility easily available in your event invites?
- How are you engaging the affected communities?
- In what ways are you engaging in mutual aid for those that may attend? (such as meeting their needs in the other intersecting accessibility spaces I listed here).
- How are you utilizing/leveraging the gifts of the disabled community?
- Are you sharing materials made by disabled people and providing compensation for their labor? Are you compensating the labor of disabled folks advising your event?
- Is compensation possible – why or why not? What would compensation look like ideally? Is the idea of compensation preventing you from utilizing the gifts of disabled people? Why is that?
- In what ways can you leverage those gifts to avoid tokenizing and/or erasure?
- Do you have a space cordoned off for those that may get sensory overloaded to cool down? (This will allow them to “take a break” to cool down and then return to the event. The spot should be behind any speakers, cordoned off with a sheet or a partially open door, and if indoors, lit dimly.)
- Do you have content notes/trigger warnings written into your scripts?
- Do you allow adequate time between speakers for people to process what was said? (Having speakers back to back with not even two or three minute break can be exhausting for some disabled folks).
- Do you have materials set up for deaf or visually impaired folks to access the materials and understand content?
- how do people reach your event? Is there an easy to find parking area and accessible walkway to your event?
- For those that may not be able to drive themselves, are you near a bus line or have a ride system?
- Do you have a way for people to make it safely home if they find they are too exhausted to drive themselves? (Safety drivers – give them a vest to make them easy to see. Give them a short training before the event on how to respond when approached for a ride home, and how to ask consent before offering to assist a disabled person into or out of the car)
- Is this information easily available in your event invites?
- do you have plans on how to adjust your event to meet the needs of disabled people?
- For example, while going through the above questions, if you find something you need to tweak or alter to provide that space for disabled folks, is that something you are willing to do? Why or why not? What is stopping you?
- Did you create take-aways for people to take home that informs them of the event’s goals and aspirations? Is there suggestions on how people can virtually or physically assist your organizations and/or events goals? (Make these easy bullet points. For example, ‘write a letter to x senator. here is a script you can use.’ or ‘donate to z fund to aid political prisoners’)