We can’t bring real change unless everyone can access the movement.
Trump and Brexit have seen a wave of protests. People are standing up to challenge hatred and falsehoods. However, despite the fact that disabled people will be hurt the most by Trump and are being hurt the most in the UK under the Government, opposition movements are still rarely accessible. Here are just five ways that we can make movements where disabled people can participate:
Safe space policy
The safe space policy benefits everyone. Disabled people can fear speaking out about people or systems obstructing accessibility, creating an environment where everyone can voice their concerns in a respectful manner helps ensure that disabled people can be involved. Additionally, queer people are more likely to be disabled. By supporting other identities and making sure spaces are trans inclusive, for example, we’re automatically empowering disabled people to be able to participate and lead any movement.
Provide quiet rooms
This isn’t always possible due to the fact most venues charge, but whenever possible quiet rooms or a quiet space should be offered. Many people may need to take breaks for whatever reason; to take meds, to manage anxiety, to stop and take a breather so as not to feel overloaded. The presence of quiet rooms instantly shows that there has been an attempt to provide for different people’s needs. Disability shouldn’t be an afterthought. If a movement doesn’t reach to be accessible, it has no place in activism.
Design accessible routes and materials
Marches can take a lot out of people. Design alternative quieter routes for those who may need them. There should also be stops flagged along the route, such as venues which will allow trans and disabled people to use their bathrooms (which should be checked for accessibility beforehand). Any literature should be given out in big print, or braille if required. Sometimes purchasing things (such as hiring an interpreter can be expensive) and sometimes these costs genuinely can’t be reached. However, ask, where possible, for volunteers if this is an issue and treat disability as essential to core values and not a luxury add-on. So many times, accessible materials can’t be purchased because they were the last thing on the list and often not budgeted for when they should be the first things thought about.
Be structured and stick to times
So many meetings, and especially left wing meetings, go on for an eternity thanks to people waffling on or being allowed to go off the agenda’s points. Enforce a clear agenda and stick to it. Some points may need to be flexible but leave time in the agenda for these topics. Some people do struggle to concentrate so consider giving out frameworks to the topics before hand, or find a way to gently remind people to get back to the point. Make it so that there are outside conversations so people don’t feel silence but the meeting itself can stay to time. When meetings run on it can mean people having to pay more for transport they’ve missed or missing their only chance home. What’s more, for people with certain disabilities trying to stay still or concentrate for that amount of time can be a huge and straining task. There’s always that one white cis bloke who loves the sound of his own voice but to be accessible, shut him up and let marginalised people say their bit and leave on time.
Centre marginalised people
This means a lot of effort. Signpost wherever possible to show inclusivity, stand up to hate (that means the trolls, the transphobes and the white supremacists) because no one will trust you if you don’t have their back. A lot of the time marginalised people won’t just come forward because so many groups say they’re inclusive then turn out to be cesspits of bigotry. It takes work. Go and do outreach at different empowering groups, make yourself known and build trust. It takes time but if you’re serious about bringing change then you’ll do it. Disabled people aren’t just white and cisgender. Groups must be made accessible to disabled people who are also queer and people of colour.
What is intrinsic is that we stop thinking about disability last. It must be something we always plan for and not seen as an additional need to cater too. If accessibility isn’t centred then the movement will be as oppressive and exclusionary as all of the rest. If real change is on the agenda, then get to work and deliver it.