Accessibility and Pagan Events

This is a first post in what will likely be a series of posts.

While the Americans with Disabilities Act doesn’t technically apply to religious groups, it likely applies to any public place that Pagan groups host events. Whether or not it applies, it’s just plain good manners to do our best as event organizers to make events that everyone can attend and enjoy.

There are lots of types of accessibility, and no one is expecting you to get all of them right every time. What people hope, though, is that it’s not a lot of drama when they ask for help because an event is not accessible. Look at your event venue closely, with a critical eye, and think about what others will see.

I’m coming at this from a couple of perspectives. I am the parent of children with disabilities. They have or have had mobility challenges, medical challenges, communication challenges, and autism. I have mental health challenges. And over the years I’ve been care giver to a number of elders who had increasing challenges of all sorts.  I don’t know everything, but I’ve learned a lot, and want to see events that are more welcoming.

Let’s start with the basics.

Standard wheelchairs are 24 to 27 inches (61-69 cm) wide. To accommodate that, 32 inches is the minimum, more if there’s any turning involved to get lined up with the door.   Keep in mind that this helps those with walkers, and parents with children in strollers too.

Stairs are awesome, if your body works as designed, and if you’re not trying to carry something large or heavy. Avoid them if possible, because anyone who needs wheels to get around will find them impossible.  Ramps are also easier for those who use sign to navigate, because they can continue to pay attention to their communication partner, rather than looking at their feet (remember that if you’re signing to someone, you’re not walking in front of them, you’re walking beside them, so wide ramps are better).

Elevators are great too, assuming they work, and assuming they are a decent size. This picture below is one I took at a Pagan event in a local municipal building – our double stroller held a toddler and a preschooler that day, plus over 100 lbs of medical gear…and it was all we could do to get the stroller and me into the elevator.

two children in a stroller, in an elevator that is just big enough for the stroller

 

While we’re on the topic of medical gear…some people are going to need electricity. Lots of people sleep with CPAP machines, lots need battery powered devices charged at various points. Have a plan when someone asks where they can plug in.

Have chairs at your ritual site – not everyone is going to be able to stand or dance or whatever you have in mind.

Have a “quiet” space designated – someplace for people who need a minute to calm down or gather themselves or whatever, and make sure that someone is there to staff it to talk to people who need to ground (even neurotypical people need that sometimes at big events with lots of energy), and to just be on hand just in case. Music is awesome at events, but not everyone can handle loud music, so consider having ear plugs available.

And, as a final thought for today, consider making your event staff wear some identifiable clothing or vests. Make sure that all visitors know those people can help them, and make sure those people know that their job is, among other things, to help people who ask for help, whatever the question is. They don’t have to know everything, they just have to be willing to help.

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