06 Oct 2016

“If you build it accessibly, they will come”

In August, ALSO staff, Stephanie Hausen and Zarena Leblanc, attended the Vera Institute of Justice's “Creating Accessibility and Welcoming In-Person Events” training in St. Paul, Minnesota. This training focused on the importance of making in-person events accessible for all attendees, specifically Deaf people and those with disabilities, and covered topics including but not limited to, “Budgeting for Access,” “Selecting an Accessible Location,” “Using Registration to Promote Access,” and “Ensuring Language Access/Deaf Culture.” Because most people with disabilities don’t identify as part of a broad disability population, planners have to be creative and intentional prior to events by inquiring about the accessibility needs of participants. A takeaway of the training was Vera’s notion “If you build it accessibly, they will come.” Read below as Stephanie and Zarena share their learnings from this eye-opening experience and explore how accessibility relates to ALSO’s mission and work.

Stephanie: As someone who has an extensive background in working with people with physical, cognitive and non-verbal disabilities, I have been exposed to a community that a lot of people have not. However, even with this knowledge and exposure, I forget how privileged I am to be able-bodied in this society. This is especially apparent when it comes to my ability to move throughout and utilize spaces with ease in any environment I enter. It’s easy to overlook disabilities that are not visible and we have to be thoughtful of not ignoring them when we’re creating spaces. I hope to not only be considerate and deliberate in creating accessible spaces in my professional life, but in my personal life as well.  

Zarena: The training opened my eyes to the fact that I could be doing more to create spaces that are accessible and inclusive of people with disabilities and Deaf people. Growing up Black in NY, I am hyper aware of the oppression that People of Color experience so the thought of treating anybody from these communities differently than I would want to be treated never felt right. Now that I have attended the Vera Accessibility and Welcoming In-Person Events training, I am able to think about what I can do to make people with disabilities and Deaf people more comfortable in settings where their presence is not always a concern.

Vera’s training helped us continue to think critically about how people with disabilities and Deaf people are discriminated against by mainstream culture, known as ableism. ALSO’s work is grounded in the belief that oppression is the foundation that supports violence and ableism further encourages the system of oppression. Most recently, ALSO completed an accessibility assessment of our website and has been intentionally working to be more inclusive when planning and conducting meetings, conferences, and webinars. By prioritizing accessibility in registration processes, accommodations, and logistics, our work is infused with sensitivity and intersectionality. Although ALSO has been deliberate about creating accessible and inclusive in-person and virtual events, we always have the ability to grow as an organization. The Vera training highlighted further considerations needed when planning events for people with disabilities and Deaf people, especially those who have experienced domestic violence and sexual assault. Adults and children with disabilities are at a greater risk of violence and addressing the needs of those most vulnerable follows ALSO’s principle belief that “No One is free from the threat or act of violence until we are all free from the threat or act of violence.”