Friday, 1 July 2016

Accessible Activism

It was bound to happen: a post where I combine politics and accessibility.

Some people are political and social activists all the time however, many are only now putting on the mantle of activist in response to the current political climate in the UK and USA. Activism can come in many forms from blogging a tweeting, to going to rallies, to attending meetings.
But is your activism accessible, and are your expectations about activism inclusive of disabled people?
Often the very people who benefit most from activism are excluded from taking part because of the very things they are concerned about. This post will focus primarily on accessibility for people who are disabled, chronically ill and neurodivergent however, you may wish to consider accessibility in terms of socio-economic status, age and language. Can young people take part, and are you reaching out to the elderly? Is your campaign material available in the languages commonly spoken in your city? Do you have an intellectual bias which may exclude poor communities with lower levels of education? Keep in mind who you activism is for and make sure you include the people who need it most.

Now on to the topic of disability access in your activism. I'll break it down by types of activism, though many groups use combinations of two or more. The following is not a list of things that you should always do in all circumstances, but they are things you may want to keep in mind and be prepared to do if people require it. Much of this information is good practice anyway, and can benefit non-disabled people just as much.
In general:

  • Make sure you language is sensitive and not disabilist 
  • Think about how information is distributed and be prepared to have alternative formats
  • Consult with specific disability rights groups to make sure you are representing them accurately
  • Listen to and value what disabled people have to say on how your issue effects them and their community
  • Be aware that encouraging people to "get out and do" can be isolating as many disabled people can not do this. 
    • Do not berate or shame people for not doing a particular form of activism.
    • Suggest alternatives that may be more suitable for them.
  • If you run an activist group or event, create an equality and diversity statement that includes disability and mental illness. 
  • Remember that people's abilities will differ from your own. That does not make their activism less valuable.
Printed Media and the Written Word
This activism mainly uses blog posts, text based websites flyers, leaflets and posters in order to disseminate information and garner attention. The focus is on sharing information, news and advice on your chosen subject.
  • Summarise key information clearly, preferably using bullet points or similar.
    • Some people struggle to read long paragraphs, a summaries help get the important information across. 
  • Use clear fonts and colours to print any text. Avoid changing colour and font too frequently.
  • Consider producing or making available flyers in different formats i.e. large print or even Braille.
  • Keep your language simple or include a glossary of any unusual or specialised terms.
  • Print on off-white paper. Pale blue, cream and pale yellow are advised for accessibility for people with dyslexia and migraines and similar.
  • On websites, avoid using frames and make sure any info graphics, cartoons or videos also have a full text transcript.
  • Have offline versions of flyers and documents available for people who need to print out or to format for a text reader.
  • Avoid using red and green in combination due to colour-blindness. 
  • If your campaign focusses on letter writing/emailing then consider alternative means for people to get involved.
Example:
Jerry has Downs Syndrome and is not confident writing a formal letter to his MP. He talks to the campaign organiser who pairs him with another letter writer who is able to transcribe what Jerry says in to a letter. Jerry reads the final version and is happy their voice has been made clear before sending the letter.

Rallies, Protests and Marches
Getting people out on the street is a great way of garnering attention and showing showing support for an issue. Rallies and Protests can be organised by small grass roots groups as well as larger formal organisations (think about your City Pride events for example). They can be difficult for many disabled people to get involved in though.
  • If you event is in a static location, provide an area and clear access for wheelchairs and scooters.
    • Level access also helps people with other mobility difficulties.
  •  Arrange for seating - folding camp chairs can be a good idea
  • If you are arranging a march or moving protest, publish your route in advance so that people can join up at a suitable point.
  • Move at a slow steady pace so that people can keep up, consider arranging for people in wheelchairs or with mobility issues to go as a group near the front to avoid getting crowded and to set the pace.
  • Consider the location of your event. Being near to parking and public transport links makes getting there easier.
    • If your location is not near public transport consider organising a car pool system or pickup from a central location.  
  • Avoid march routes that go along hills - up and down can be problematic.
  • If possible arrange for shelter. A person using a walking frame may not be able to hold an umbrella.
  • Use the best amplification you can get so everybody can hear.
  • If you are providing placards, provide a variety of sizes and shapes so that there is something for everybody.
  • Consider wording and language on placards carefully, avoid disabled more mental illness slurs. 
  • Consider the duration of events. Some people can not stand, walk or be out for long periods.
    • If you are running concurrent events i.e. a meeting after a rally, consider a break for rest and refreshment between them.
Example:
Rosemary has POTS and can not stand for long periods. She is relieved that the rally she is attending as a cluster of reserved seating so that she cat sit for the duration.

The Spoken Word
Whether at a rally or protest, as part of a conference or at a local meeting spoken word is a big part of how activists can spread their message, garner interest and raise enthusiasm.
  • When arranging for speakers make sure to include people with different disabilities, chronic illnesses and mental health needs.
    • Their input doesn't have to be confined to those topics. Representation is important.
  • Provide water and seating for any speakers, ask them if they would prefer to speak first or last.
    • Fatigue, anxiety, pain etc, may mean some people need to speak earlier.
  •  Hire a BSL interpreter and make sure they are positioned clearly for the audience.
    • For conferences you may have to assign an interpreter based on attendees needs.
    • Give any prepared material to your interpreter in advance.
  • Ask speakers what their needs may be in advance.
    • this may include seating, level access, shelter if outside or an interpreter. 
  • Use the best sound system you can for your situation. Good clear amplification is important.
  • Use visual aids like PowerPoint or Live Closed Captioning or provide written transcripts, notes or flyers covering the key points of what is said.
  • If you are producing a video make sure to include accurate closed captioning. 
  • Speak clearly and at a steady (not slow) pace. 
    • Avoid using any colloquialisms or unusual abbreviations.
  • Be tolerant of mobile phones: they can have accessibility apps or may be recording so that the person can access the speech at a later point or with specialist software. 
    • Some people with conditions like ADHD actually concentrate better when they are doing two things at once. What may look like a distraction may be an aid.
  • Make sure that any sound effects or music do not obscure the speaker. 
    • Avoid use of loud or sudden sound effects like bangs.
Example: 
Marja has PTSD triggered by angry shouting. She is relieved that the speakers at the demo all speak clearly without resorting to shouting angry slogans.

Picking a Venue
This is partially covered in the previous sections but does require some of its own notes. Your venue can be a big factor in if people can take part in your activism. This can apply whether it is a rally for a thousand people or a meeting for a dozen
  • When deciding on a location or venue for your event keep accessibility in mind.
  • Look for level access to all main areas.
    • Where possible this should not be a service entrance. 
  •  If possible choose venues with hearing loop systems. 
    • Find out the specifics in advance and let your attendees know.
  • Make sure there is space to manoeuvrer mobility aids through doors, around tables or down aisles.  
  • Try and choose a venue that is near to public transport or car parking.
  • For conferences and large events, having a "quiet room" can be beneficial for those who need a break.
  • Find out if food and refreshment is available or if people can bring their own.
    • Consider different dietary requirements.
  • If possible find out if you can control lighting and temperature as some people have sensitivities.
    • Strong fluorescent lighting or flickering lighting can be particularly problematic.
Example:
Vic wants to attend meeting of a local lobby group but hasn't been able to because the group use the upstairs room of a pub which they can not access. They talk to the lobby group who agree to change venue to a downstairs location so that Vic can attend.

As stated this at the start this isn't a definitive list of things that activist groups should be doing however it should assist you in thinking of what things can be done. More than that it should help to foster an attitude of inclusiveness toward disabled activists that will help make sure your aren't inadvertently excluding people.

Of course, there are also plenty of things that disabled activists can do themselves to make access easier (making sure to manage our pacing for example) but the weight of making sure disabled people can access your activism shouldn't and can't solely be their responsibility.
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