Contributed by Hustling Creative Mentor Suzanne Richard in partnership with Open Circle Theatre.
There is a little saying in the disability community: nothing about us without us. The real key to inclusivity in your space or organization is empowerment. People with disabilities don’t want to ask for permission or receive special treatment in order to participate - they just want to be a part of it all.
With these simple steps, you can begin the ongoing discussion of creating an inclusive culture.
I grew up in DC, the land of political correctness and believe me, I fought it kicking and screaming until eventually, you breathe it in and find it’s not that bad. In fact, mindful communication is a crucial part of making your workplace's whole atmosphere welcoming to all.
Some people can get all twisted up in knots about inclusive language. But a simple fix from “Could everyone please walk…or… roll (?) into the next room,” to: “Could everyone please move into the next room” ensures that everyone feels included, whether individuals with physical disabilities are present or not.
Bonus points: if you want to know more, take a look at this post all about inclusive language.
Most people aren’t actively trying to keep people with disabilities out of their spaces, events and organizations. They just assess a situation and assume that a person with a disability is unable or uninterested in interfacing… like it might just be “too difficult."
Instead, when you perceive a potential obstacle for a person with a disability, check-in with them unobtrusively. They may well have experienced this obstacle before, and already have a fix. Or, they can then collaborate with you on the solution. Nothing about us without us, remember?
But a more long-term solution is to convene a council to examine everything from your facility to your media, and decide together whether it presents any obstacles. And as you can guess, that council should be composed of people from your community with disabilities.
Bonus points: if a companion is accompanying a person with a disability, don’t ask them what the person needs. If the companion needs to step in to facilitate communication, they will. For example, when you interact with people who communicate in American Sign Language (ASL), look at the person, not the interpreter.
Sit in a Chair
Whenever you are building or making changes to your facility, simply sit in a chair. See if you can reach, see, or use whatever you’re interacting with. For example, if you are making part of your bartop counter lower for guests using wheel chairs, it shouldn’t double as a computer station. Because when you sit down, you’ll see for yourself how much it sucks trying to peer through wires and screens to see the bartender. Similarly, don’t stick a trash can right in front of the elevator button!
Bonus points: as you think about these physical changes, remember to do these same checks backstage and in your offices. Professional artists who happen to have disabilities are just as deserving of your consideration and respect. The point of inclusion is to make the whole community accessible.
Ready to take it to the next level? We have plenty of options available to you that will ensure that your organization is mindful of persons with disabilities, to be fully released on Monday, January 27th. Be sure to subscribe so you don't miss it.
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