Monday, 18 July 2011

What's before 101?

Today I went to the Big Radical Left Fair. It was a fun day - lots of baking, lots of people, and some super cute kids.

If you could get yourself to the venue - the only access was up a flight of stairs.

This is not rare in Wellington. Many people who organise events seem to treat an accessibility as a 'nice to have' - given up when something a group deems more important is under threat.

Every political event is also political statement - over and above anything that is said - the medium is a message. And what organising an event up or down a flight of stairs says is this:

"We have chosen to exclude people from this event on the grounds of their mobility disabilities."

That's not just wrong, because excluding people is wrong, it also weakens the left. Any exclusion of marginalised classes of people make it harder for us to fight for our collective liberation.

So when you're part of a group that is deciding on a venue for something and your struggling (as you probably will in Wellington) and you think "hey what about this community hall/bar/art space that is up a flight of stairs?" Ask yourself "Would I prepared to print - we have chosen to exclude people from this event on the grounds of their mobility disabilities - on every piece of advertising for the event?" And if you wouldn't be prepared to name what you're doing, then don't do it.


Deborah said...

Great post, Maia.

And what organising an event up or down a flight of stairs says is this:

"We have chosen to exclude people from this event on the grounds of their mobility disabilities."

This is 'click moment' stuff, the sort of thing where people finally get it about accessibility.

Jackie Clark said...

I so agree. It always amazes me that at the kindergarten, where I work, the new sandpit was built without a ramp. Which says to me that for all the "PCness" of the organisation I work for, much of it is tokenistic.

Anonymous said...

I think that this is a great eye-opening point to make, but I also think that with such a small amount of venue options in Wellington (most of which are inaccessible or not-ideal) it is incredibly hard to get the right space for everyone.

Keeping accessibility in mind and trying to balance accessible events with events which don’t cater to all levels of access need is not saying “We have chosen to exclude people from this event on the grounds of their mobility disabilities” it’s saying (particularly if you have advertised that there are accessibility issues with the venue) “we acknowledge this place is not suitable for everyone and we’re striving to make this the minority of our events.”

If there were an abundance of highly accessible event venues in this city, it would be a different story. But most of us have to try and make do with slim pickings, and if the worst we do is try and alternate between accessible and non-accessible due to price, availability and suitability then I hardly think people are actively excluding the disabled.

Rather than vilifying event organisers I think we should be calling to the owners of event venues to make their spaces more accessible.
- C

Muerk said...

My mother had a bad stroke some years ago. She can walk some distances with a stick, but when she goes out she will also use her wheelchair.

I have to say, disability access is often pretty bad. Mum can use steps, but not a ramp, but if steps don't have rails then she is sunk. Often disability access is ramps for wheelchairs, but this excludes people with mobility issues who aren't in a chair. Sometimes there are steps with rails but the steps are very deep or high.

I don't think people really understand mobility issues until they have been with someone who just wants to run a few errands but it's a complete battle because of a lack of accessibility.

Well said Maia!

Joanna said...

Hi Maia,

Is there a list somewhere of venues that are fully accessible to everyone? Because that would be a useful resource to have. Of course accessibility issues would also include price, location, licensing issues, ability to cater to all kinds of dietary requirements etc, right?

Azlemed said...

I have accessiblity issues in a different way, taking prams/pushchairs to some places is not easy either, often stairs are too steep to easily pull a pram up so Mothers can get excluded from events too...

I figure wheelchair users would struggle more than pram pushers do

Maia said...

Thanks Deborah, Jackie and Muerk.

I have to say I have little time for the argument that it's not group's responsibility, but the result of Wellington being an inaccessible city. Yes it's appalling that New Crossways is less accessible than old crossways. Yes the accessibility of Wellington is a political issue that should be changed.

But the reality is if a group allows non-accessibity to be an option - it will become the norm. Because there are so many inaccessible venues the chances are that you'll be able to find something cheaper, more convenient for the organisers, in your ideal location, at the perfect time, at short notice, etc. etc. etc. At that point a group can either treat accessibility as optional or they can ask "What would we do if this venue wasn't available." And the answer would be keep looking. There will never be a time where it is as easy to organise events exclusively in accessible venues as it is in non-accessible venues.

I was told by the organisers of the fair that there were two rooms not available on the date that they wanted, and therefore they couldn't get an accessible venue. I thought of more than 20 venues that might be available and would probably be accessible. In order to get an accesible venue they may have had to be flexible about the day and date, (Sundays are difficult days to work on because churches book out a lot of venues - and they appear to care more about accessibility than left wing groups) and organised a bit more in advance. But the idea that accessibility means you can't have events is nonsense.

Joanna - I agree that an guide to access in Wellington would be awesome. I'm reasonably good at noticing steps, but thing like door width and weight I often don't notice.

I do find it's a common tactic when disability issues are brought up, to try and make it about everything at once and therefore stick things in the too hard basket. So I'm cautious about the way you bring in issues that seem to have little connection to disability - or are hardly an integral part of left events - such as lisensing, food and price. Unless it's a fundraiser, surely the price of the event should be born collectively in a way that prevents it being a barrier for individual attendance. As for food and drink - if a group can't organise that in a way that's not excluding people then re-imagine the event.

C - I think you misunderstood my point about messaging. The message I was talking about wasn't about an intended message, but what else is communicated. In particular, 'excluded' isn't a verb of intent - it's about groups' actions not what they are trying to do. Groups that organise events at venues like Crossways may not be intending to exclude people on the basis of their mobility impairments - but they are doing it nonetheless. I disagree with the implication you make that what matters is whether or not groups 'actively' exclude people with mobility disabilities. It doesn't matter how passively groups exclude people - as long a they exclude people.

Maia said...

C - I didn't respond to your suggestion between alternating between accessible and non-accessible venues - but the more I thought about it the stranger it seems to me.

To me it's almost worse for a group to suggest that they're aware of access issues, and they think they're important enough some of the time. At least, I'm fairly sure with the radical fair it didn't occur to anyone that disability was an issue. They haven't (yet) decided the solution is to have every other fair accessible.

But possibly this is about the way you think about disability. You describe disabled access as meeting people's access need. This makes disability about the person. I don't know how much you know about the social model of disability ( - but it really demonstrates how problematic that sort of approach is.

I would argue that inaccessible venues are discriminatory spaces. The problem is not with the person (and their access needs), but the way spaces are constructed to exclude people.

To me "yes we understand that this space discriminates against people and we'll do something about that half of the time." Is worse than the "huh" that you get on a lot of the left who haven't had reason to thought about this.

Joanna said...

I'm sorry, let me rephrase myself. Are you actually going to create a list of venues that are accessible both physically and economically so that event planners can use them in the future?

Kat said...

A few years ago the City Communities team at WCC was working on putting together a community venues database, which would have included details about accessibility. Last thing I saw before I left was just a big spreadsheet that hadn't been made publicly available, but it might be worth asking the Accessibility Advisor.

Maia said...

Joanna - No.

If your implying that one cannot raise a political question, without as an individual hand-holding those who are currently ignoring that political question to fix it - I think that's quite a bizarre position to take.

It's a great idea, and something I'd be happy to be part of (although I htink there are tricky aspects to it - on the one hand hte 'nothing about us without us' principle is pretty firmly entrenched in disability activism so something like that could not be done only by people without mobility disabilities, but then if it's initiated by someone without mobility disabilities, it's a demand for people with mobility disabilities to do work in order to make it easier for those without not to discriminate against them. Which isn't cool). But that doesn't mean I've got the resources to do it right now. I see my role as being a strong voice among the groups I'm involved in to ensure that we organise accessible events, and speaking out when other groups organise at inaccessible venues.

Kat - that sounds cool. There is also some information up on the council website, but some of it is out of date (I checked Crossways and thought it was accessible until someone pointed out that it was the information for the old Crossways.

Muerk said...

Maia: If groups make accessibility a priority then I'm sure they can find a venue that doesn't exclude people. If nothing else I'm sure they could ring a disability group for help and advice.

I know that helping mum has made me really aware about what places have access for people with special mobility needs. Still, access isn't enough, it's also things like well laid out toilets that disabled people can use. Comfortable seating that is stable, not too low and with decent elbow rests is also a must for people with mobility challenges but who aren't using a wheelchair.

I'm sure people with disabilities can tell groups exactly which venues are accessible because they have to deal with this issue every time they go out of their house.

Carlist said...

What disgusts me is that people are building venues that are inaccessible. Why can't everywhere be accessible to disabled people?

Muerk said...


We don't live in a society that is very accepting of disability. Sure I dare say it's better than some other places, but we could do better.

Going shopping with my mum showed me some of what people with disabilities face. Mum would hand people money when she was buying things but the people would hand _me_ back the change and talk to me rather than her.

Still, some people were excellent but I was surprised at how she got treated.