If I asked you to picture what you thought activism was, what images would come to mind? Maybe someone passionately speaking into a microphone at a rally? Or maybe a resistance march? Perhaps a political protest led by a group of badass organizers? Those sorts of events are what the average person associates with activism: Protests, marches, and rallies.
That’s all fine and dandy, but let me now ask you a few followup questions about those events. Did the person who was speaking at the rally have a sign language interpreter standing next to them? Did the resistance march have designated areas for people with physical or psychiatric impairments to sit and rest? Did the group of badasses who organized the political protest have people with disabilities on the team?
If you answered no to any of these questions, then you’re doing it wrong. And by it, I mean activism.
Like all other -isms, activism needs to include the issues and experiences of all groups of people. Unless every group is represented, true progress cannot be made, and considering that the point of activism is to make progress, well, we kinda need to make sure everyone is represented. Yet people with disabilities continue to be left out of the conversation and the issues, like they have been throughout history.
When people with disabilities are excluded from attempts at making social or political change, their opportunity to voice their concerns and demands is taken away from them. Any change that may occur as a result of such an attempt will only benefit the groups that were present and able to have their specific interests taken into account. This only acts to further marginalize people with disabilities, hindering any overall progress from being made.
Unfortunately, we are at a time in our history in which it is acceptable for a man to brag about sexual assault, publicly ridicule acclaimed reporters for their disability, boast about his disregard for marginalized people of all stripes, and still be elected president. However, as a result, we are also at a time in our history where the masses are starting to take notice and take action against such injustices. Never has there been a more potent time for us to evolve as change-makers and as activists. In order to make our activism more accessible, we need to do the following:
1. Widen Our Scope Of What Is Considered Activism
Activism has gotten this rep that it needs to be some big event that fosters hundreds of supporters and leads to immediate or noticeable change. Although these types of actions have been successful in the past, they will not be sufficient enough to propel us toward the revolution we crave. We need to start comprehending what the true nature of activism is.
Activism is defined as the policy or action of using vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change. In order to get to the root of the meaning, it is essential to break down the various components of this definition:
The act of campaigning is defined as a planned set of activities over a period of time in order to achieve their aim.
Political change is the act of making our current political landscape different.
Social change is the act of making our current cultural, behavioral, and societal values different.
In which case: activism is the policy or action of using a planned set of activities over a period of time to make our current political, cultural, behavioral, and societal landscape different.
Now, if we are to make our activism accessible, meaning it includes people with disabilities, the definition becomes:
The policy or action of using a planned set of activities over a period of time that are able to be used by people of all abilities to make our current political, cultural, behavioral, and societal landscape different.
Activism does not need to be big. It does not need to include hundreds of people. It does not require public demonstrations. What it does require is a change to the cultural or political status quo. Educating people, making art, writing articles, sending letters, calling representatives, posting on social media: all of these things can lead to change. Sometimes you may only change something small, or change the mind of one person, but there is no quota of change required for activism.
The current focus of activism is on the result, or the product, if you will. Of course the product of change is our aim as activists, but if the manner in which we reach that change contradicts everything we stand for, we haven’t progressed or evolved at all. We need to start focusing on the process of change, how we choose to change, and understand that diverse forms of activism are necessary for change at multiple levels in our society and for multiple groups of people.
2. Make Inaccessible Activism More Inclusive
via: Disabled Identity
Widening our scope of what constitutes activism inherently makes it more accessible because people of all abilities can choose to create change in ways that are inclusive to them. However, this does not negate the fact that current forms of inaccessible activism need to become more inclusive as well.
Protests, marches, rallies, and other forms of public demonstrations or campaigns are powerful forms of activism because they bring attention to the issue, they unify thoughts and demands, they create incentive for change, and they allow people to express their emotions over issues that may affect them on a deep level. People with disabilities have just as much of a right as anyone else to participate in these actions. By not creating an environment that is accessible to people with all abilities, we are engaging in large-scale ableism. As leaders and changemakers and supposed social justice warriors, we should be ashamed of our failings on this front in the past. Thankfully, we have a lifetime to make up for it.
The easiest, most obvious, and most necessary way to combat excluding people with disabilities from these type of demonstrations is simply to include them. Events of this nature have a leading group of organizers and planners; each and every one should include (or, at the very least, consult) disability rights activists or accessibility consultants. Abled people do not know the specific demands or requirements of people with disabilities, and they shouldn’t pretend to.
Disability rights activists will not only be able to assist organizers in making the event itself accessible and accommodating, but they will also be able to offer suggestions on various ways that the disability community can combat the specific issue that other communities can’t. Everyone has something unique to contribute, and by not including a vital voice in our society we are screwing everyone over, not just people with disabilities.
It is also essential to take into account the type of event in question and what specific requirements might be needed for subgroups within the disability community. For example, public marches and rallies need separate areas for those with physical impairments to be able to get around freely or rest if necessary. Every event should include sign language interpreters for the deaf community. If the event is going to be extremely loud or packed, there should be quiet areas or rooms set aside for people with psychiatric disorders or developmental disabilities. Most uncertainties can easily be solved with the consultation of a disability rights activist.
The bottom line is: as changemakers and as human beings, we have the responsibility to include and accommodate all groups of people. This should be our priority above everything else. Once we do accomplish this, the rest will be easy.