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Access, Clarity, Conflict

nbarker's picture

In thinking about access this week, I've been considering what are both major successes of accessibility, and cases of conflict.

The two events that were going on this week were absolutely amazing. I was hopeful that Rachel Simon's talk would be fantastic, and I have to say it exceeded all expectations. She really models accessibility in the way she presents, and one of its core tenets: adaptability. Even when we had some technical issues, she adapted quickly and gracefully, as well as adapting well to even what was a somewhat sticky question she was asked during the Q&A (about "friendship" and "partnership" programs, and their upsides and pitfalls). Her enunciation was clear, her language accessible yet eloquent. She laid out a roadmap for the talk ahead of time, so you knew what was coming when--which rather than detracting from the beauty of the talk, enhanced it. She also folded descriptions of her images directly into the flow of her talk! 

However, I must note, we did have some issues with accessibility. We tried to get CART for the talk, but couldn't fit it in the space (in addition to the company). The space WAS wheelchair accessible, though there wasn't much space left for such, and we labelled food with allergens. I at least hadn't considered sensory issues either--and then ended up having some myself, considering the lighting! As an event organizer, it was a great experience to learn just how much needs to go into thinking through accessibility--and I now know much better how to do it. 

A Fierce Kind of Love also really modelled accessibility too--I could hardly find fault with the performance's accessibility--or indeed many faults at all. My one comment is more a personal artistic preference: I felt some sections of the play could have had better connections and transitions between each other, and I wasn't always clear about what the relations of some parts were to each other. By contrast, however, it was an interesting artistic choice as well as an access choice for the performers to make clear, by name usually, when they were taking on another character's persona--not just by changing their voices/vocal patterns and posture, but by being declarative. Both artistic and accessible!f

The guidelines documents we also looked at helped me consider this topic further--I'm actually going to send them on to members of my grad school FB group. Shout-out to Occupational Therapists being mentioned! It really synthesized for me what attracted me to OT in the first place: working on botsides of the access question, by both looking at how to change a situation towards more accessibility, and then helping people learn how to adapt to circumstances that can't necessarily be changed. 


Something I must keep realizing in my work as a community organizer* however is that I really need to be conscious about how I do my activism in a way that will be accessible in a specific way: coalition-building. Rachel's talk really modelled a way to do that for me. I do struggle frequently with anger at situations of injustice. I really want to learn how to embrace the idea of "tikkun olam", a Jewish (Hebrew) word that literally translates as "repair of the world", but has a much more nuanced meaning that I don't yet fully understand and want to better (caveat: I'm not Jewish), which I first encountered in the Stubblefield article from earlier in the semester. My first reaction in many cases of seeing injustice and things not working is anger; no one ever said I was level-headed... However, that doesn't make for best practices of building bridges. Instead, I'm trying to learn how to meet people where they are, and begin to move them incrementally towards a more inclusive perspective. I'm going to have to exercise that same care especially when I head to Grad School this summer, as many of my soon-to-be classmates are former ABA practitioners and autism professionals, which I'm pretty intensely nervous about...
*I've chosen to refer to myself as such, rather than an activist, because it puts even more emphasis on inclusivity, rather than just action. What I'm doing is still activism, but I'm stressing that I want to specifically build community--wherever a person is. 

Finally, I'd like to provide a few interesting articles I've found that might be of interest on this subject. The first is a post by Ari Ne'eman of ASAN, who has written a fascinating piece about a case where different kinds of accessibility ended up creating conflict, rather than helping smooth the way. He talks about several specific conferences where the accessibility measures ended up being at cross purposes--for instance, a CART machine causing multiple people sensory issues, and simple language and repetition designed to help people with learning/intellectual disabilities be able to comprehend better coming across as both annoying and condescending to non-intellectually-disabled autistic people. You can read that here: Dealing with Accidental Discrimination.

A second article just came across my news feed last night, but which is a call to action for accessibility of many kinds--in this case, I believe coming also from an autistic person (not 100% sure): Include All of Us!