Updated: Aug 22
Physical accessibility is only part of the picture when it comes to making spaces and events accessible. That is often the easy part! If your space is physically accessible but people ignore/freeze out folks with various accessibility needs or work to make it uncomfortable for them so that the disabled person “opts” not to return, your space is not accessible.
Here are some tips and tools to make your space more emotionally and socially accessible to folks with varying accessibility needs.
Make sure your group leads are educated about creating accessible space.
Most folks have not had any practice making space accessible for folks with disabilities and chronic conditions. We, as a culture, are not taught about how to lead a blind person, what questions are inappropriate to ask someone in a wheelchair, or how to respond when someone with an accessibility needs points out a weakness in our programs. Part of making your space or event accessible is providing basic training on how to interact with folks and how to address issues of accessibility as they are raised.
There are plenty of people who can provide trainings to your staff and volunteers. You could also create your own training (either online or in-person). If you opt to go home-grown, make sure the person in charge of designing the program lives with a disability or has extensive training on making spaces socially accessible.
I recommend reaching out to the following:
Rachael Rose at Hedonish.com
Robin Wilson-Beattie at RobinWB.com
Robin Mandell at Ready, Sexy, Able
Los Angeles Spoonie Collective at SpoonieCollective.org
2. Have a Code of Conduct (and Enforce It!)
Establishing a code of conduct for your staff, volunteers, and participants which include items to make your space more accessible is helpful. Enforcing it is critical!
Your code should include items which make your space inclusive. This can include:
Prioritizing Everyone’s Safety
Not tolerating hateful, hostile, or discriminatory speech
Making sure presentations and play spaces are physically accessible
Entertainers can’t “punch down” or mock disabilities
Listen and respond appropriately to feedback
Making sure images are inclusive whenever possible
Request people do not wear perfumes, colognes or scented lotions
Respecting the requests and feedback from organizers and monitors and abiding by their requests
Posting the Code of Conduct in a high traffic area is also useful. It will serve as a reminder to folks what the code is and keep accessibility in the short term memory for people to draw on throughout the event.
3. Have designated staff or volunteers who enforce your Code of Conduct.
Having staff and volunteers who can make sure spaces remain accessible allows folks with chronic illnesses and disabilities the space to enjoy the event or play space without having to turn every negative interaction into a “learning opportunity.” If someone other than the person with the accessibility need asks a presenter to turn on closed captioning in a Zoom class, or asks a rigger to move their scene a few feet to the left so that a person using a wheelchair may pass takes the pressure off those of us who spend a lot of time at an event trying to create space and not enjoying ourselves as a result.
4. Provide Speakers/Presenters/Entertainers with Accessibility Guides Prior to Their Performance
This is key to making your events accessible. While a growing number of presenters are learning about accessibility needs, it is not a widely used set of skills. Providing people with tips on accessibility prior to their engagement with your space or event is useful.
This may include:
Directions about how to turn on closed captioning to a Zoom class (or letting them know CC will be used)
Asking all presenters to use a microphone regardless of how loud they think their voice might be
Asking people not to wear scented perfumes and lotions (or use them in their demos)
Advising people that you do not require people to disclose their disability before trying to accommodate it. This would include not asking, “Can you hear me,” without using a microphone, automatically reserving seating in the front for people with vision impairments, making sure their performance or demo allows for spaces for wheelchair seating.
Asking people to send either a list of uncommon words or a recording of their piece prior to the event so that ASL interpreters can be prepared.
Provide a guide to making sure your imagery is inclusive.
Sending the Code of Conduct
5. Enforce Your Code of Conduct
This is where things can get uncomfortable. When you have a presenter, performer, or guest violate your code of conduct you will need to take steps to enforce it.
I am opposed to most zero-tolerance policies because many situations require the ability to adapt to the specifics of the occurrence. Rather than a “one strike and you are out” policy, I encourage a graduated approach to most offenses. The reality of our predominant culture is, we are not trained in being aware of people with disabilities and chronic illnesses. Many violations of a code of conduct will be inadvertent and not intended to cause harm (even though the result may be causing harm).
I am a fan of the alert- correct – require training – ban (either temporarily or permanently).
Most people, once alerted to the issue and shown how to correct it, will. I believe at our core, humans don’t want to cause harm to others and will avoid doing so if we understand the impact our actions have. In many cases, simply pulling someone aside and alerting them to the problematic behavior will be enough. In other cases, you may want to require people to take some form of training before returning to your space. When some persists in harm or the initial harm is so great, banning them from future events may be the only solution. Having a clearly spelled out set of actions as a group or event response to violations of the code of conduct will both guide your responses regardless of your personal feelings toward an individual, and provide you with cover in case someone becomes belligerent.
6. Make your social media, brochures and ads inclusive.
Most events and spaces have some sort of web presence these days. Evaluate the images you use to advertise and describe your event or space. If they feature people, are people of different ability levels featured? Is everyone standing (not inclusive)? Are people all thin, young, and white (not inclusive)? Evaluate the images to make sure they show a range of individuals. This will help promote the idea of inclusiveness.
There are additional ways to increase the inclusivity of your online presence.
Add alt+text to your images (helps with screen readers)
Check readability (I use https://readable.com/)
Check for people with color blindness (I use ColBlis)
Add closed caption to videos (YouTube and several other services offer automatic cc, you just have to turn on the setting)
Making your space or event widely accessible will not happen overnight. However, it is important to work on inclusiveness in our community. Additionally, many of these steps will make your space easier to navigate for all people.
For example, I am not hard of hearing, however I love videos with closed captioning. Sometimes people’s speech impediments, recording issues, or accents make a person difficult to understand. Closed captioning helps! Also, there are times where I don’t really want the sound on (like when I am cruising the internet for information with my nephew running about). Having closed captioning allows me to watch teaching videos and ads for play spaces for my work with an 8 year old in his online school class.
Accessibility helps everyone!