If you wannabe my lover, sign this pledge to make events that include disabled people
Let’s access-orise your event descriptions!
[below is a story about disability discrimination featuring alcohol, afterwards there's info about the pledge + an access statement web tool]
The night is young. In a homely room, friendly faces gather for the sesh. It’s getting to the tipsy stage where at least four people have synchronised around a screen of cat memes.
Spontaneously, someone’s voice lifts up above the collective stupor.
“We should go to THAT NIGHT!”
The mood soars to a buzz. Some people pretend they have to study and won’t come, whilst we look up the event details and if we need tickets.
“Will I be able to get in with my scooter?” asks Tez. I pause.
I go back onto the Facebook event. Scrolling… the end paragraph goes into intimate detail about DJ BigSmasher and says sweet nothing about access.
“It’s alright,” someone’s assuring, “we can message the organiser, I know them.” We message and wait.
(a) fifteen minutes;
(b) four messages to presumed friends of the organiser, and;
(c) three attempts to call the venue…
… the mood is stagnating. One of us has kept up a rhetoric that it will probably be fine if we just go, which is making Tez look a mix of annoyed and embarrassed.
“Give it a rest,” someone snaps, “it’s the kind of shit venue that won’t let her in and there’s no point going if Tez can’t.”
Her earrings tinkle as Tez chimes in: “I mean, I am basically the whole night out” and everyone laughs once again.
Fifteen minutes on, we’re set to just go and see what happens. As we’re heading out, the organiser replies, informing us “I don’t know if it’s wheelchair accessible” then tells us to wait. Ten more minutes. In my mind’s eye I can see him trolley-mashed, haphazardly trying to ask staff whether the venue’s accessible. No message. We start leaving again, bored.
There’s outrage: that’s illegal, it’s discrimination and, now, we’re basically sober! Someone’s phone pings: “sorry it’s not”, offers the organiser, and people offer back unspeakable names for him. By this point we’ve degenerated into angry puns. “I don’t get it,” I roar, aghast, “how can they have not thought about anybody in a mobility aid?” and Tez turns to me, deadpan, “It wheely gets to you, doesn’t it.”
That story might not be 100% accurate, but your event descriptions could be!
Having conducted an access-ment of the situation around Cambridge, CUSU’s Disabled Students' Campaign recently published an Accessibility Pledge that societies can sign, listing 8 simple points to work towards for greater inclusion of disabled people. Signing shows commitment to considering access needs, creating a positive environment.
Pembroke College’s JPC are first to sign! I’m hoping all JCRs join. I found making fresher’s week friends tricky: on top of managing disability in a new environment, my college hadn’t thought about accessibility. Being unnecessarily blocked from events, or forced to make undue trade-offs between (mental) health and participation, is something no-one arriving to university should face; reducing this, we can better welcome disabled people into our community. And then we can eat them! (Joking.)
All societies benefit from increased dialogue with disability, no matter how different. I want to see both CUCA and CULC pledge to make themselves accessible, then watch more disabled people fighting bitterly about their political differences across panels, the BSL interpreters taking furious swipes at each other.
One thing to access-ntuate about the pledge is that it touches on invisible impairments and mental health, something not everyone realises comes under disabled access. Normalising people arriving or leaving whenever, including periodic breaks and designating a quiet space for events can make a surprising improvement to everyone’s wellbeing.
Likewise, making event promotion and layout about connecting first, consumption second, can be transformative. Too many events centre around imposing tables of food or alcohol, sometimes a barrier with eating disorders, substance misuse patterns or dietary requirements. The difference between a start-of-year ‘Meet your department’ event versus ‘Drinks party with your department’ is subtle but powerful, and it’s something I hope we can model to faculty as student groups. Thanks for coming to my TED talk.
If events leave out disabled people, aside from being unfair, do they really have all the fun people, anyway? As the wise tree once told: “to look for the sesh you must search within accesh”. Trying to meet our needs honours our right to participation.
So how do you try to make events more accessible? Access statements on event descriptions are the place to start. Want to know how to write access statements? [Blue Peter voice] “Here’s a website that can write statements for you …that we made earlier.”
The Disabled Students' Campaign host an online access statement generator meaning it takes less time than boiling a kettle to add access info to events. This tool is public – with a charming Oxbridge Blue colour palette! – and there’s no limitation on its use. It’s a series of easy, click-through choices.
Even if nothing else, event-makers can list a contact for access. Having no-one to contact is not really access-ptable… how else can individuals ask about specifics?
Event descriptions covered? All that’s left is to get as much in place as you reasonably can.
A final concern: unfamiliarity around arranging access needs. (What is a hearing loop?) Particularly if you’re trying to organise an event whilst being disabled, and otherwise prone to overwhelm. It’s (acc)stress! It means wondering what is possible. It means messing up plenty along the way. The main thing: trying to talk with disabled people as much as we can. Signing the pledge signals we are open for communication.
If you are in a society, club, JCR, MCR, group, meetup, community, team: ask if they’d like to sign up, and let’s get your events access-orised!
Access pledge: https://www.disabled.cusu.cam.ac.uk/accessibility-pledge/
Access statement generator: https://www.disabled.cusu.cam.ac.uk/resources/access-statements/