Thanks to the unseasonable weather, I’m cool, but not cold, and after a long day of sitting at my desk, standing for 20 minutes feels great. Eventually I’ll shuffle my way to the front of the line, sign in, and climb up two flights of stairs before being directed to a long wooden bench. There won’t be any cushions. I’ll sit in a hot, stuffy room with hundreds of people, straining to hear the presenters when someone inevitably holds the microphone too far away from their face. I’ll watch a busy PowerPoint presentation. I’ll carefully scrutinize the talking points distributed in 12-point font on a single piece of paper. And then, when the event is over, I’ll walk the half mile back to my car because no other parking was available.
None of this will be a hardship for me. But right now I’m waiting. And while I’m waiting, someone with a motorized wheelchair is being turned away. Of course, they sigh, of course this old building can’t accommodate a chair. They smile, swivel away with their group of friends, and power down the sidewalk. I’m angry. In fact, I’m furious. We need everyone to be a part of this resistance if we’re going to be successful. But what’s clear is that this isn’t the first time they haven’t been able to participate. And if we’re not careful, it won’t be the last.
When able-bodied community advocates say, “Everyone is welcome,” we have to carefully consider what that means. Are Deaf or hard of hearing people welcome if there’s no real-time captioning, someone isn’t signing, and presenters don’t know how to properly speak into a microphone? Are people with mobility issues welcome if there are too many stairs and challenging seating? Are people with vision impairments welcome if there aren’t large-print handouts and simple, easy-to-read presentations? What about folks who can’t stand out in the cold or tolerate a room that’s too hot?
People are not oversights.
We can’t always find the best or most accessible venue. We might not think of all possible accommodations. But failing to make that effort is unacceptable. Resources are available, and there are organizations, such as the Michigan Disability Rights Coalition, that can help point us in the right direction.
It’s easy to say the LGBTQ community deserves equal protections under the law or that black lives matter. But we’re only paying lip service to those ideas when we exclude the disabled voices living at the intersections of those communities. If we don’t actively strive to make the invisible visible, we end up contributing to a damaging system of oppression that often infantilizes or invalidates disabled lives. That’s not right. As LGBTQ activists and members of the queer community, we know how important it is to challenge society’s perception of what’s “normal” and dismantle it. Disabled voices are critical to that process of creating an equitable and just future.
Sometimes, just living is a form of resistance.
As we turn our words into action, we must confront our own ableism and recognize that all people and bodies have value. That when we make our movement fully accessible, it benefits everyone. The resistance — queer or otherwise — must be accessible.