Friday, May 20, 2016

Sustainability for All of Us: Accessible Organizing

By Jay Luce Nelson, CUIP Intern for the Sustainability Office Education and Outreach Team 

Everyone in this world has different experiences, capabilities, limitations, and tolerances. Why should anyone be excluded from sustainable organizing? Next time you or an organization you are involved with plans an event, consider what can be done to make it more accessible.

If your usual programming includes lots of social activities with a high volume level, consider occasionally hosting a low-volume event. 

Accessibility, like sustainability, is not a finite list of boxes to check. They are not linear processes with set ending points. Both are continuous journeys based on a constant sense of wanting to do more to create a better world for ourselves and those who come after us, and both must begin somewhere. Checklists exist to provide a starting point and guide us to learn more.

Below are only a few ways we can begin to create events for all of us to enjoy based on the idea that accessible programming's main goals include providing access to safety and content for all guests. These ideas focus on (dis)ability with a few tips on creating safe spaces for transgender students based on personal accounts.

1. Will every attendee have physical access, safety, and comfort?
  • For off-campus events, use a venue within three blocks of public transportation or provide transport
  • Choose a location with wheelchair-accessible gender neutral bathrooms
  • Only use areas accessible by ramp, elevator, or stair lift
  • Provide seating
  • Avoid intense hot or cold temperatures
  • Encourage guests to go scent-free and avoid strong odors
  • Avoid flashing lights or loud noises
  • Clearly label allergens on any food provided
  • Do not make statements assuming ability (such as the ability to walk, ride a bike, etc.)
  • Avoid assuming pronouns; include space for pronouns on (reusable) name tags 
  • Encourage everyone to tell the pronouns they use during introductions but do not force anyone to disclose theirs; transgender students may be forced to choose between outing themselves as trans or misgendering themselves if they are forced
  • Avoid referring to bodies or their parts as male or female

Image by Adventures of an Allergic Foodie
Listing all of the ingredients in a dish is an easy way to make dinner confusion-free for those with dietary restrictions.

2. Will every attendee have access to the content presented?
  • Provide interpreters, captions or audio transcripts for videos
  • Provide descriptive audio for visuals
  • Provide large print versions of text 
  • Allow participants to request an interpreter, transcripts or captions of speeches and videos, or a hearing loop
  • Allow participants to request screen readers or braille versions of text
Image by
Numerous classrooms on campus have hearing loops installed!

Remember that everyone needs accommodations at some point; artificial lighting is an accommodation for the human inability to see in the dark! Next time you plan, take the extra steps to provide the accommodations someone may need.

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