Accessibility on the Streets: How to Make Your Protest Inclusive of People with Disabilities
According to WHO, 15% of the world’s population lives with a disability.
Some of these disabilities are visible, while others aren’t.
Still, even disabled people are interested in systemic change, much of which can benefit them.
But if you truly want a protest to be wholly inclusive, it needs to include those who want to participate, but might be limited due to their disability.
In this article, we’ll go over some ways that you can make protesting on the streets more accessible for everyone who wishes to participate.
Read on for more information on making your protest as inclusive as possible.
Listen to Disabled People
Even if you’re part of the disabled community yourself, you still can’t, and won’t be able to, imagine all of the ways in which disability impacts others.
Disabled people are the best resource when it comes to planning and organizing a protest or rally and including their needs.
Speak to other disabled people within the social justice sphere. Ask them what has worked at past protests and rallies and what hasn’t. What has been an obstacle for them participating in protests in the past? What worked well and allowed them to participate in protests in the past?
Use all of these answers to brainstorm ways to make your protest or rally more inclusive.
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Think Beyond Wheelchair Users
Sometimes people mistakenly think protests or rallies are accessible because they have seen people in wheelchairs marching.
“That’s it,” they think. “This protest is wholly inclusive!”
But people in wheelchairs are just a small percentage of people who are disabled.
Yes, people in wheelchairs may be able to participate in an organized march or parade, especially if they are in motorized wheelchairs. But that doesn’t present the entire story.
Of course, you’ll need to make concessions for wheelchair users and speak to those who use wheelchairs about how to do so. But they’re not everyone who is disabled.
There are many folks who have trouble getting around but who aren’t in wheelchairs, as well as a variety of other disabilities that could impact whether or not someone can participate in a rally or protest.
Beyond mobility issues, there are those who have trouble with sensory overload, those who have other medical issues as well as those who are disabled due to mental illness.
While there isn’t an exhaustive list of every disability or what can be done to accommodate everyone, you will likely be able to discuss a lot of this with your community.
If a disabled person in your community tells you they need accommodation, don’t act like they’re a burden or unreasonable. You should always try to meet reasonable accommodations to meet the needs of your community. If it is too challenging to meet everyone’s needs, that’s all right, but it is important to at least make an effort, as well as to consider all accommodation requests.
Consider Other Accessibility Issues That Don’t Stand Out Immediately
We’ve already spoken about wheelchair use and how this isn’t the only accessibility issue for rallies and protests. Think about how people will get to your protest or rally. Is there a lot of walking and must the person arrive on public transportation? Is public transportation in your area disabled friendly? Can you provide transportation to disabled people who may need it, or coordinate it with an outside group?
You may also wish to provide some concessions for folks who have disabilities that aren’t visible. For instance, people who suffer from bowel or bladder issues, or who stomas may need to use the bathroom frequently. As such, you may consider renting a portable toilet at various locations to allow them to continue to protest but do so without worrying about if a bathroom is free.
You may also wish to provide space for people to relax and chill out, as protests can often get intense. People with anxiety, past trauma, or autism may find themselves overwhelmed, even if they didn’t anticipate that they would. As such, providing a place to breathe is a great idea to allow people to recharge.
Consider bringing snacks to help people physically recharge, as well as water and other drinks. Keep your snacks as friendly to as many diets as possible, so fruit other whole food basics are a good idea.
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Allow Those Who Can’t Be on the Streets a Way to Participate
In the end, you can’t accommodate everyone’s disability. Some people who have chronic illnesses may be unwell and not able to attend the event. Others may find that sensory overload is too much or that their mental health simply won’t allow them to attend. That’s totally okay, and not every person with a disability will be able to protest on the streets.
Give people who can’t make it, but care about the cause, concrete ways to participate. For example, there may be numbers to call to demand justice. There may be petitions to sign. There may be an awareness to spread. Much of this can be done in the person’s own home on their laptop.
Don’t plaster mantras like “online activism isn’t real activism,” to make people who are participating online feel like they’re not doing enough. Instead, encourage online activism for your cause, letting people know that it is still a way to make and affect change.
Fighting for Justice
Much of 2020 has been about getting on the streets and fighting for justice for a variety of different disenfranchised groups. Make sure that when you fight, you don’t just fight with a select few, but that your activism is inclusive.
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