Last weekend saw millions of women across the globe march for their rights, in protest at Donald Trump becoming US President. The incredible numbers at each march were phenomenal to see, and they gave me immense hope for the fight ahead. In recognition that marches are not accessible to everyone, #DisabilityMarch was set up on Twitter so disabled women unable to attend a march in person could add their voices to the chorus of protest. It was such great way to get everyone involved; people were included even if they couldn’t leave their bed. It really made me feel as though I was part of the march. The solidarity and love I was shown after posting just one tweet was amazing!
However, Twitter ‘marches’ like #DisabilityMarch always leave me feeling slightly uneasy, for a few reasons. Firstly, it gives the impression that there are only two ways to get your voice heard- to attend a protest or to post on social media. It implies that if you are non-disabled you go to a march, and if you are disabled you send a tweet. You’d be forgiven for thinking you had to pick one or the other, and that there was no in-between. In reality it’s nowhere near as black and white as that; social media campaigning and protest are actually at two ends of a huge spectrum of activism.
There are hundreds of ways to make change and different methods will be accessible to different people. There are far too many to list here but they include: writing to your MP or to a company director, organising a community meeting, having a conversation about issues that matter to you around the dinner table, making art, films, poetry and music or writing a blog (hello!) Last week, I combined my love of public speaking with my passion for raising disability awareness by speaking to around 100 Year 9 students about perceptions of disability as part of Scope’s Role Model Programme. Of course it’s important to remember that many disabled people have been at the forefront of direct action for years as part of groups like Disability Action Network and Disabled People Against Cuts, and many disabled people did attend Saturday’s marches in person.
I’m not downplaying the value of social media activism in the slightest. Tweeting and taking part in thunderclaps are effective and accessible, so if tweeting is your preferred/most accessible form of activism then go for it! The few replies I received to my tweet really did buoy my spirits at the weekend! What I am saying is, that if marching is inaccessible to you but you want to branch out from using social media, there are loads of options. Try out different ones until you find something that’s accessible and enjoyable for you, and don’t feel as though one method is superior to another. Lots of people I know in the liberation movements have heard the likes of ‘marchers are more committed than people sat at home behind a computer.’ This is ableist rubbish! We can debate the effectiveness of different methods until we are blue in the face but I believe that every method of activism has value, so do whatever you can to make the changes you want to see!
This brings me on to my second point. If you are a non-disabled campaigner, don’t expect disabled people to be content to just sit on Twitter! Make an effort to make your organising accessible to disabled people! The only way we can be truly successful in campaigning for equality is if our activism is inclusive and intersectional. It’s vital to recognise that many traditional methods like marches are inaccessible to disabled people.
Here are a few ways you can make your grassroots activism more accessible to disabled people:
- Make it as local as possible rather than just hosting regional or national events. Having to travel 30 minutes to a few hours to attend one campaign meeting is exhausting!
- Make sure the venue is accessible. I don’t just mean make sure there is an step-free entrance, but make sure it is has an accessible toilet and easy to get to, without having to navigate an assault course of 5 different hills and a broken bumpy path to get there.
- Publish clear access information online before an event. We shouldn’t have to ask you about it and it’s no fun having to check whether access has been considered every time we want to participate.
- Reach out to the disabled people you know and ask them to take part. Sometimes we just don’t have the energy to enquire about the access and facilities so we don’t bother going.
- Publish start and approximate finish times for meetings and events in advance. So often I have had to guess what time to get picked up from a meeting and ended up either hanging around for ages after it finished or missing the end.
- Offer to pay someone’s taxi fare. Public transport can be a nightmare for disabled people and taxis are expensive.
- Wherever possible, make sure meetings are in a warm place. A lot of organising is done in drafty community halls or out on the streets. It can be a lot harder for disabled people to stay warm, so events like these are often too cold for disabled people to attend.
- Make sure meetings aren’t too long, and incorporate plenty of breaks. Many impairments affect stamina and energy levels so this helps to ensure disabled people can participate as fully as possible.
- Make sure there is adequate comfortable seating, for people unable to stand and walk for long periods.
- Don’t have meetings which go on late into the night. Many disabled people need lots of sleep so having time to wind down and keep to a sleep schedule is so important.
- Let disabled people take the lead. Listen to and act on their ideas and listen to what they need to make activism accessible to them.
- Is the discussion at meetings accessible? Can everyone hear what is being said? There should be a respectful atmosphere, where the voices of members of marginalised groups are amplified. Everyone should have space to have a say. It shouldn’t be a question of who can shout the loudest.
I’ve scratched the surface here in terms of ways that activism can be made more accessible. These are only my ideas that have come out of my experiences of activist spaces. My perspective is that of a white, straight, cis wheelchair user so this is far from a comprehensive list. I was thrilled to see the hashtag #AccessibleOrganizingMeans pop up on my Twitter timeline on Sunday morning. It’s reassuring to know it’s not just me who feels that activism needs to be made more accessible. Take a look at the hashtag to get more ideas, especially on how to make organising accessible to different groups of disabled women, particularly disabled trans women and disabled women of colour.
My final plea to you is don’t let last weekend mark your only piece of activism of the Trump presidency. Keep fighting, be a voice for your own rights and those of others in the most active and inclusive way that you can. I would love to hear what accessible activism means for you and what your plans are for inclusive organising in the future. I can’t wait to see how the Women’s March and the #DisabilityMarch propel us forward to fight for equality (both on social media and off it) in the weeks, months and years to come!