Ensuring that people with disabilities have access to social justice movement means that our movements will be stronger, more informed, cross-sectional and more likely to be successful. Learn more about how to make our movement accessible to all.
Table of Contents:
Why do we need disability access?
How to be an ally to disabled people
How to make your event accessible
How to meet people’s needs: Local accessibility resources
Further political readings
Organizations to Follow
Approximately 54 million Americans have at least one disability, making people with disabilities the largest minority group in the nation. As the baby boomer population ages and more veterans return from war, this number will double in the next 20 years. Most disability is acquired.
People with disabilities are among the most marginalized groups in the world and face barriers to: healthcare, transportation, education, employment, and housing. People with disabilities experience higher rates of poverty, violence, and sexual assault.
Many people with disabilities continue to be institutionalized and isolated, and most face physical and attitudinal barriers on a daily basis. Many businesses and community gathering spaces have stairs but no ramps, effectively segregating and denying access to participation. Disability cuts across race, gender, sex, and income level. The experiences of people with disabilities cut across all social justice issues, and the perspective must be recognized in our movements.
People with disabilities have waged many successful movements to create a more accessible world and there are many lessons to be learned from these successes. Ensuring that people with disabilities have access to social justice movement means that our movements will be stronger, more informed, cross-sectional and more likely to be successful. An accessible community for people with disabilities benefits everyone. Think about curb cuts, automatic doors, and texting – all of these things came about because they were needed by the disability community and that community advocated for them, but they have created conveniences also for able-bodied people.
HOW TO BE AN ALLY TO DISABLED PEOPLE
RESPECT & LISTEN – Recognize that people with disabilities are inherently worthwhile. Listen to their stories, experiences, and perspectives.
LANGUAGE – Use the phrase “people with disabilities” or “disabled”.
ACCESS – Work to create accessibility in your community, workplace, and place of worship.
UNDERSTAND - Having a disability does not make a person’s life any more inspirational, pitiful or tragic than yours. Disability is an ordinary and familiar part of daily life for many.
ACTIVISM – Educate yourself. Read about the Disability Rights and the Disability Justice movements. Attend disability culture events.
Click here for a flyer with more information and ideas.
One easy and impactful thing all event organizers should do is have an Accessibility Statement on all of your outreach, which includes basic accessibility info and an accommodation contact. Even if the event is being held in a space that is inaccessible (ie, there are stairs at the entrance or to the restroom), be up front. In doing so you are raising awareness of physical barriers and letting people decide for themselves whether they can attend.
Accessibility Statement Example 1: Accessibility: ASL interpretation will be provided during the Q&A and closed captioning will be provided during the film. The event space and restrooms are wheelchair accessible. Low Fragrance: To help make this event as accessible as possible to participants for whom chemicals or fragrances are an access barrier, please refrain from wearing any scented products or washing with them on the day of the event. For additional accommodation requests, including requests for audio description and braille programs, please contact [NAME OF CONTACT PERSON], by [DATE] via email at [EMAIL ADDRESS], or phone: [PHONE NUMBER].
Accessibility Statement Example 2: Access: There will be ASL interpretation. The building is wheelchair accessible. Guests are asked to refrain from wearing scented or perfumed products. For more information, click here. For any additional disability access or reasonable accommodation requests, contact [NAME OF CONTACT PERSON] by email at [EMAIL ADDRESS] or by voice or text message at [PHONE NUMBER] any time before the event.
Why these are good accessibility statements?
Both of these statements were pulled from events that were specifically reaching the disability community in addition to people outside the disability community, so some accommodations were already built into the planning of these events. Statements like these are recommended for any events where you are specifically doing outreach to the disability community. Hopefully, one day accommodations like these become commonplace and we don’t even have to talk about them.
Some key things about these statements that are good to notice:
- Wheelchair accessibility – it’s always good to specify the wheelchair accessibility of the event space AND the bathrooms. It’s not unheard of for a space to be accessible but for their bathrooms to have barriers.
- Even if you have already listed what accommodations will be present, a statement inviting people to request additional accommodations is good because it expresses, “hey, we can’t anticipate every single need, but we want to be inclusive of all people in our community, so let us know if there’s something you need that’s not listed here.”
- Contact information – an email and phone option for someone who is willing to collect the information about accommodation requests and coordinate the efforts to meet the requests.
Bare Bones Example 1: Accessibility: The event space and bathrooms are wheelchair accessible. [NOTE: If wheelchair users must enter the building from a different entrance than everyone else, give directions here to the accessible entrance.] To request accommodations, [NOTE: Here you could add specific things like, “such as ASL interpretation, a fragrance free environment, audio description, etc.”] please contact [NAME] by email at [EMAIL] or by voice/text at [PHONE NUMBER] by [DATE].
Very Bare Bones Example 2: Accessibility: To request accommodations, please contact [NAME] by email at [EMAIL] or by voice/text at [PHONE NUMBER] by [DATE].
Why these are good accessibility statements?
These both communicate a basic level of awareness about accessibility and a willingness to make accommodations when requested. If your organization is just beginning to learn about creating access, it may be a good idea to start using these statements and track data regarding the kinds of requests you get so that you can gather information about what areas of the disability community you are or are not reaching. With the phone number, if there is texting capability, specify that folks can also text, but if not, then specify it is a voice number.
Some potential accommodation requests you might receive:
- Wheelchair access – obviously the easiest way to provide this is to only host events in spaces that are accessible. Another consideration would be to purchase a portable ramp that can be used in spaces with small barriers.
- Space accommodations – when planning any event, it’s often helpful to assume that people who use wheelchairs will come so you can arrange chairs or other furniture items in a way that allows space for people to navigate easily.
- ASL interpretation - when doing any outreach specifically in the Deaf community – at Gallaudet in particular – they likely won’t advertise your event unless ASL is being provided or there is a specific statement that says something like, “to request ASL interpretation, please contact [NAME] by email at [EMAIL] or text at [PHONE WITH A TEXT OPTION] by [DATE].”
- Closed captioning - most films have an option for closed captioning, but sometimes you need to specifically request the DVD that has captions, so just being aware of that is good. You can always turn the captions off if no one needs them.
- CART (Communication Access Realtime Translation) – this link talks a little more about CART, which is primarily an accommodation for Deaf folks, though it can be helpful in a variety of situations
- Large print or braille programs - for people who are blind or low-vision.
- No flash photography – sometimes flashes trigger seizures for people with seizure disorders so you may get a request that event participants not use flash photography.
- Fragrance free - this is to provide access to people with multiple chemical sensitivities or environmental sensitivities. This blog post has some great resources as well as a great statement about how making spaces accessible is an act of love.
- Audio description - this is an accommodation for people who are blind or low-vision and it is when someone verbally describes what is happening, usually in a film, but it could also be just describing a person’s surroundings. For example, if there is a dance performance and there is no narrative that goes along with it, someone could describe what the dancers are wearing, how they are moving, what props they are using, etc. This doesn’t necessarily require any special training, just attentiveness and willingness to try.
- One-on-one learning support – this describes the accommodation of supporting someone with a disability that affects their capacity to learn or remember information. Taking time before, during and after a meeting to sit with someone to make sure they are receiving information in a way that allows them to participate is a way to create access for people with intellectual disabilities and other kinds of disabilities.
Click here for more advice on organizing accessible meetings, demonstrations and actions from SOA Watch.
(This list is not exhaustive – please write us with any suggestions!)
- American Sign Language Interpreters
DC Office of Disability Rights Interpreter Resource List (professional rate is $50-100/hr)
Gallaudet University Student Interpreters (pro-bono services)
Independent Interpreters (freelance, direct hire)
National Alliance of Black Interpreters – DC Chapter (NAOBI-DC)
- Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) (~$100/hr)
- Braille Programs & Materials
- Large Print Materials
FedEx Kinkos – Large print programs can be good to have on hand. Blind or visually impaired individuals may prefer receiving materials on a CD in doc or text format, Doc or text versions of materials can also be posted on the web and the link shared with folks ahead of time. Accessible docs are free of images, or if there are images, there are also image descriptions.
American Printing for the Blind, Inc. – Accessible Media Guidelines (inc. large print and PowerPoint)
- Accessible Websites
- Timeline of Disability Rights
- Disability Rights and Justice
Disability and the Justification of Inequality in American History by Douglas Baynton
Crip Poetry by Jim Ferris
Time has Come to Embrace Disability Justice Movement by Janine Bertram Kemp
How our communities can move beyond access to wholeness by Mia Mingus
Disability Justice – a working draft by Patty Berne
- Washington Peace Center/DC Trainer Network’s Trainings
ADAPT is a national grassroots community that organizes disability rights activists to engage in nonviolent direct action, including civil disobedience, to assure the civil and human rights of people with disabilities to live in freedom.
The Autistic Self Advocacy Network is a nonprofit organization run by and for Autistic people. ASAN was created to serve as a national grassroots disability rights organization, and does so by advocating for systems change and ensuring that the voices of Autistic people are heard in policy debates while working to educate communities and improve public perceptions of autism.
National Council on Disability
NCD is an independent federal agency charged with advising the President, Congress, and other federal agencies regarding policies, programs, practices, and procedures that affect people with disabilities. NCD's mission is to be a trusted advisor, in collaboration with people with disabilities. They truly rock and weigh in on a wide variety of issues.
National Disability Leadership Alliance
A national cross-disability coalition that represents the authentic voice of people with disabilities. NDLA is led by 14 national organizations run by people with disabilities with identifiable grassroots constituencies around the country.
National Youth Leadership Network
NYLN is dedicated to breaking isolation and building community through supporting youth with disabilities to reach their full potential.
Self Advocates Becoming Empowered
Self Advocates Becoming Empowered (SABE) is the self-advocacy organization of the United States. Founded in 1990, we have been working hard for the full inclusion of people with developmental disabilities in the community throughout the 50 states and the world for 24 years. Our non-profit advocacy organization is run by a board of self-advocates representing 9 regions of the country.
Sins Invalid is a performance project on disability and sexuality that incubates and celebrates artists with disabilities, centralizing artists of color and queer and gender-variant artists as communities who have been historically marginalized from social discourse.
Thank you to Carol Tyson and Alison Whyte for their help in compiling this resource guide. Please contact the Peace Center with any additions or corrections at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-234-2000.