Today is Blogging Against Disablism Day 2011, and this year I wanted to look at how accessible feminist groups are in the UK to disabled women. So I emailed several feminist network groups at random, whose email addresses I could find, to ask the following questions:
1. Does your group meet in accessible premises?
2. In what ways do you meet the needs of disabled feminists who are / want to be members of your group?
3. Are there aspects of access, and other needs, that you find difficult to meet? Why?
4. Is there anything you would like to say about disabled feminists being included in activism?
The 3 groups I heard back from all reported that they were doing their best to be accessible, but in some cases were having trouble with this. Funding was quoted a few times as a problem, that finding accessible rooms which were also free to hire was very difficult.
Solent Feminist Network, for example, meet in two venues, one of which is accessible and the other not. However, they have a deaf member and have had some good ideas about how to make meetings more accessible to her, and are proactive in inquiring about disability access to other events which they might be promoting or attending.
Gloucester Feminist Network are newly formed and have only hold one meeting so far, but did meet in an accessible venue, inspired in part by being accessible to people with buggies as well as disabled access. They were also aware that there is more to access than physical things, and hoped they could meet anyone’s access needs as they occurred.
Finally, Bristol Feminist Network, whose regular meetings are not accessible. They identified the difficulty of finding free accessible rooms, and of not wanting to meet in places like pubs which might not be ‘friendly’ to women from various communities. However, they are aware that it is a problem, and are taking the issue seriously by continually seeking more accessible venues to meet. And for events, rather than regular meetings, they do strive to always make those accessible, and also mention that they do a lot of online activism which is more accessible to some people.
Sian from Bristol Feminist Network summed up the issue really well, saying
I think that it is vital that feminism looks across all privileges and takes intersectionality seriously and does all it can to be accessible to all. I cannot tell you enough how long we have spent discussing and talking about trying to find the right venue. It will happen because we cannot continue to work in this way. Disabled feminists face discrimination on many levels, vawg [violence against women and girls] effects disabled women at disproportionate levels, workplace discrimination and the cuts are affecting disabled women – we need to work together to fight patriarchy.
One of my first posts here raged about this issue, and while I stand by how infuriating the situation is, I also cannot rage at individual feminist groups for not meeting in accessible venues. As long as businesses and organisations completely ignore the Disability Discrimination Act and Equality Act and do not provide reasonable adjustments, for instance a ramp or an induction loop, then it is harder for local, grassroots groups to find places to meet that do meet even the legal criteria, never mind the ideal.
The groups I heard back from were at least aware that they may not have as an accessible a group as they wanted, and I do wonder if they replied because of this. The groups I did not hear from may be doing better, or worse, or have not considered the issue, but I only had just over a week to gather responses so it might just be that they did not have time to reply.
There are some recommendations I would make, however.
All feminist groups should, at the very least, have a prepared statement about how accessible their meetings and events are, to disabled people. Ramps, large print leaflets, a quiet room somewhere nearby, regular breaks, an induction loop system installed, accessible toilets, grab rails, accessible parking, nearby public transport, whether steps have handrails, etc. etc. The best way to find out how accessible your meeting place is, is to ask disabled people to tell you. Often centres for independent living and other disabled groups offer accessibility surveys.
If this is an issue your group has not looked at in detail, it has to start being one. You are not representing women, you are not supporting or fighting for women, if a large group of women can’t get in, especially if you haven’t considered it.
Don’t believe that you only have to start looking at disabled access when a disabled woman expresses an interest in your group. If there isn’t an accessibility statement on your website, or even if a woman sees the venue you meet at, and knows she cannot get in, she may well not contact you to express an interest. The assumption will be made, and you may never know about it.
Don’t look at the issue as ‘letting’ disabled women take part, or that you should be an accessible group because it’s the right thing to do (although it is). Do it because disabled women have new and different skills, opinions and tactics to contribute to the group, like any new woman who gets involved does. You’re not doing us a favour, you’re doing yourselves one!
If you have limited choice of venues, which are inaccessible, take the initiative and put pressure on those venues to become DDA-compliant. We disabled folks sometimes get tired of always being the ones battering the doors down to try and get in – others taking responsibility to hold businesses to account as well can only be a good thing.
Don’t assume you know. It is ok to not know, and holding disability awareness events and training for your group, preferably run by disabled people, is a good way to get an understanding of living with impairments, and of the ways society disables us. Because, key to the Social Model of Disability is the understanding that we are not disabled by our bodies or minds, but by steps, small type, complicated language and tiny toilet stalls.
If you have a website, do your best to make sure it meets web accessibility standards. If it can be read by a screen reader, and text size easily adjusted, this is a good start. Making easy-read alternatives to your leaflets available on the site is really useful to many learning disabled or neuro-diverse people, and large-print leaflets, and transcribed videos for visually impaired and hearing impaired people.
Please let me know in the comments of how best you think feminist groups can be accessible to disabled women.
[Image is the Blogging Against Disablism Day logo. It contains 20 coloured squares, each with a stick figure in, some with apparent impairments. At the top is text which says Blogging Against Disablism.]