We kick off a new year learning why we should begin our endeavors with access and how to get started.
*A freshly hoed field surrounded by green grass and a line of trees under a blue sky. Image from common.wikimedia.org.*
Resolutions to create disability access are often deemed “too hard” and “too time-consuming” in the face of our daily grind. This month’s tip will break down why creating accessible spaces will make your life easier and how to get started.
Why Start Now
- Discover how access works for you. Flexible policies, easy-to-move-through spaces, and information provided in a variety of ways might be useful for you, too.
- Flip history on its head. Historically and today, access is added on after the planning is finished or ignored completely, meaning that about 25 percent of people are an afterthought. Let’s be different.
- Avoid last minute chaos. Scrambling for interpreters, redoing documents, and moving locations is not fun.
- Hone your access lens. Once you learn to notice accessible spaces, your Access Radar will cue you in to just how many of your favorite places could learn a thing or two.
- Build your access skills. You, too, can create accessible documents. And arrange for interpreters. And do access check-ins. You’re awesome like that.
- Channel your inner legal eagle. After the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990 (nearly 30 years ago!) everything was made accessible, Right?
Where to Start
Start where you have influence and control. This could be in your work, community, or personal life.
- Create documents or fliers?
- Help to plan events or gatherings?
- Have coffee or meals at restaurants?
- Teach people how to do things?
- Run errands at local businesses?
- Create community agreements or house rules?
- Budget your money or someone else’s?
- Go to local parks, libraries, or theaters?
- Post on social media?
- Talk about current events?
In each of these situations, you have some influence and opportunity. Use it!
How to Start
- Begin at the beginning. Before an event is planned, before a budget is created, before a change is implemented.
- Start with one new habit. Pick one habit to improve accessibility and practice it every time. This might mean making all the documents you create accessible, only posting video clips with captions, avoiding fragrances, or scheduling interpreters every time you have a public event.
- Practice asking, “Is this (document, event, meeting, space) accessible?” If people are confused or unsure, help them learn how to make it accessible.
- Keep a resource handy. Familiarize yourself with local disability organizations so you know how to find the information you need. (Did you catch all four links?)
Right about now is when many people think, “wow, this is a lot of planning and thinking ahead!” At first, yes. After some practice, it simply becomes the way you do it. And checklists are your friend for learning and remembering access skills you don’t use every day. Create your own checklist that fits what you need to remember.
And remember, the alternative is putting the work on disabled people to check that your venue is accessible, wrestle with poorly created documents, and worry that any given environment will be a harmful reminder that many people and organizations don’t act on their commitments to disability access.
You Did It! Let’s Celebrate
Here are some ideas for benchmarks you could use to track your progress. Not feeling these? Create your own!
— I know how to find out if a business is accessible before I go. How? (This focuses on physical/wheelchair access but remember there are many kinds of accessibility.)
— I practice asking about cognitive, mental health, visual, hearing, and mobility accessibility when I am involved in a project or event.
— I add descriptions to social media photos.
— I seek out accessible businesses, restaurants, and theaters to patronize.
— I have ongoing plans to increase my knowledge of diverse disability communities and access practices.
— I have written down ways that I can bring up disability access at work, community or faith organizations, or social groups I am part of.
— I am practicing an access skill, so I can support other people to make things accessible.
— A contact for accommodations is included on our promotional materials for every event.
— There is a list of access needs that are automatically met at every event we host, without request. This is noted in our promotional materials.
— Our internal meetings model access, assume a variety of learning and participation styles, and welcome people to state and meet their needs. We continue to meet needs that have been shared.
— We have a budget set aside for access requests.
— All documents are created in screen reader accessible formats.
— Our organization hosts workshops for staff on accessibility and disability culture. These workshops do not rely on people with disabilities “sharing their (personal, medical) stories.” Instead, they focus on the individual and organizational work we need to do to recognize ableism and create accessible, anti-ableist spaces and practices.
— Our organization is developing relationships with local disability-led organizations.