Making the Climate Movement Inclusive to those with Disabilities

Thanks for joining us for the second part of our series on accessibility. Before we delve deep into other areas in which we can work to be more inclusive, we need to come to a common understanding of the words we are using. Words like inclusive, accessible, and equitable get thrown around a lot these days, but sometimes we still don’t understand others as we go along.

Inclusive is used to describe spaces and situations where we strive to make sure any person can feel welcome to join, no matter who they are. Accessible means that we want people to be able to enter a space with few or no barriers. This can look like providing childcare or translation to those who may need it. Equitable means that we consider social and political factors when hosting events. This also means prioritizing the needs of people who face daily attacks and/or oppression.

Having defined these terms, we can now speak on the need for creating spaces that (almost) everybody and mind can be a part of. I write “almost” because we can always do more to help people feel welcome. As a person with the privilege, I know that there are some needs I may not be aware of and should often assess and ask what they are so that they can be met. This includes taking a look at the language we use and the buildings we occupy.

For people with physical disabilities, getting to a location is only one challenge in accessing space. Whether with special vans and cars or on the public bus, people who use mobility devices have an extra challenge of getting from one place to another. They often have to plan ahead if they want to get somewhere on time. The quality of a sidewalk or elevator makes all the difference in whether or not someone with a mobility device can get to a place. Once they get there, the building must be wheelchair or walker accessible if there are any stairs. And of course, there must be awareness from others so that such people are not forgotten or made to wait because of their physical differences.

For those with learning disabilities, the situation is a little different. Many of us don’t know how much advantage we have until we encounter someone with less. Those of us with learning disabilities deal with shame and fear in ways you may not think about. If we can not read or write very well, it has a major impact on how we interact with others. If English is not our first language, communication can be hard. It is up to those of us with these advantages to make sure that those without can still be part of a group in a meaningful way. This means using less complex language and translating when needed and able.

This is just the start of our conversation on accessibility. In what ways can you think to make a space more open to people? What needs did you have that went unmet in the past? Please share so that we can learn how to better make you comfortable in our meetings and other events.

Art by: Molly Costello

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