“Take A Stand.”
“Join The March.”
These three common phrases are often used as an attempt to mobilize groups in a fight for their rights. But what about those who are immobilized — the folks for whom a step, let alone a march, is not an option?
Protests are critical in this shaky political climate. However, as we call our community to social arms, we must think about how to not only include but to center the most marginalized of voices: people with disabilities.
There are many things to consider in order to make an event accessible for a variety of needs. Whether it is a matter of mobility, access to restrooms and other necessities, or safe places to sit for those who cannot stand for long, there are tons of things organizers can do to make protests more accessible for those with different needs. After all, if we do not center the needs of those whom we claim to be fighting for, then these actions all just boil down to acts of intellectual and sociopolitical masturbation.
Here are 5 things that organizers can do to make protests more accessible.
1. For Every March, Offer A Rally Alternative
Not everyone can march. For those of us with mobility issues, provide a safe space for folks to congregate, exchange ideas and begin community planning.
2. When Speaking At A Rally, Be Mindful of Ableist Language
This one should absolutely go without saying, but you would be surprised at just how embedded ableist language is within our culture, even within social-justice and politically-minded communities.
3. Only Use Truly Accessible Spaces
When hosting community events, don’t choose spaces that do not have ramps or street-level doorways for folks using wheelchairs or other mobility devices. It doesn’t matter how cheap (or free) the space is — it isn’t truly a community event if you are excluding an integral part of the community.
Bathrooms must also be accessible, with doorways wide enough for someone using an ADA-approved wheelchair to pass through, and there must be a metal transfer pole in the restroom for those using chairs.
4. Plan Around Spaces With Restrooms
Not every disability is centered around mobility. Some folks must have access to restrooms. When planning rallies in public parks, make sure that there is a restroom within a close distance (less than a block) from the meeting space.
5. Offer Wheelchairs and Folks to Push Them
If you must march, gather wheelchairs for those with mobility issues but no access to mobility devices, and find volunteers to push them. And don’t just stick folks in wheelchairs at the back of the line in a sea of butts and armpits. Put them front and center of the march — especially if your platform involves healthcare and disability rights.
It isn’t just enough to talk about the rights and needs of PWD. It’s time to show solidarity by truly centering these identities. Remember, disabled folks are not just hot-button issues; we’re people who deserve to be recognized and treated with dignity.