In a political climate that feeds so much on fear, activism is both more necessary and more difficult. Organized protests and events are meant to remind us that we are not powerless in the face of those who do not act in the best interest of the whole.
However, if we do not make these things accessible to all who wish to join the conversation, we fail in our goal. I think as organizers we’ve become aware of the need for and value of inclusiveness in our work. But, as a disabled activist I have often felt forgotten in the recent uprisings.
Taking part in protests and talks has often felt unsafe and kept me from taking part as much as I’d like. As one of the groups being targeted by the administration I feel the conversation is missing something if people like me are kept at home for fear that our needs and wellbeing were not considered.
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Here are five things I hope that we can take into consideration to make these important moments accessible to everyone.
Think about how to get there.
If you are hosting an in person event like a rally, consider how folks will get there. Will you be chartering a bus? Can ride sharing be arranged? As many of us don’t drive I ask you to think: How can you make these options available to those who use mobility aids like wheelchairs and scooters?
Can you offer an off sight component?
As someone who some times has a hard time with transportation I always offer to do any off sight work. This could mean moderating an online stream of the event, sending letters, making phone calls, whatever I can contribute from home. Offering these tasks to folks with disabilities gives us and opportunity to take part in a meaningful way even if we can’t be there in person. There is always prep work or paper work to be done in these situations. Consider us a resource.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made plans to travel for an event and arrived only to be told, Oh, we hadn’t thought about how you’ll get up the stairs. Even at disability specific events where I’ve been asked to speak, I can’t assume that these things have been accounted for. This is frustrating and could make disabled folks feel as though we are not welcome because we are an inconvenience. Make an effort to choose venues which are accessible to everyone. Then, whatever venue you choose make this information available. Do folks in chairs need to use the back door? Will we be taken up in a special elevator?
Post this information to the events Facebook page or include it in e-mails. This makes it feel like we are part of the cause and not an afterthought you have to make time for at the event. Not to mention we can be more effective participants if we can commit our energy to the task at hand and not to figuring out how we can get to an accessible restroom (which reminds me, consider the restrooms.)
Bring a group.
We all know there is strength in numbers. This is the reason to demonstrate in the first place. However, these events are often crowded and this makes them hard to navigate safely using mobility aids. As someone who uses a wheelchair, I find people often don’t see me in crowds. Thus I spend a lot of time getting knocked into or fallen over. Bringing a few friends with me to an event I’m passionate about not only offers more support but gives me a sense of safety if things get hectic. I know they are close by and looking out for me in a crowd. This way I am empowered to participate fully without fear. If you can’t bring someone (or even if you can). Get to know the people around you. Learn their names, ask why they came. This will build a stronger sense of community with like minded people but it will also give you someone who is looking out for you.
These will be people who keep from being walked over or help you get out quickly in and emergency. I have a community of women who I know from local writer and activist circles. If they are there I know we have each others backs and can use are connection to give power to whatever we are fighting for.
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The only way to make sure events are more inclusive is to be there and insist on being included. It can be hard and scary to get started but organizers only know to include disabled if they see our interest and how we benefit the cause. Show up. Share with the organizers what you need. Or show up and organize for yourself. But either way, be loud and energetic until inclusion is a priority of the revolution.
Hopefully these five tips make space for all us to support the causes we believe in. Some of the most passionate and powerful activists I know are disabled and all causes will suffer if they are kept away because they feel unwelcome or unsafe to take part. Convent exclusion punishes everyone.
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Feature Image: Protests Erupt as Trump visits Philly. Protestors took the Philadelphia Center City streets as a crowd stands outdoors with signs and chanting. Flickr.com/Joe Piette