Our workshop topic for today’s #FeministsWafflesWork session was: Making our work accessible to people with disabilities. It was in honor of the UN’s International Day for People with Disabilities, and sparked by a post I saw on @feministlibraryonwheels’ Instagram account. While we often discuss making our work more accessible to a variety of groups — for those who cannot financially afford to attend our events, for those who need childcare to attend our events, for those of many underrepresented groups who are included in our mandate to be intersectional and inclusive — this session was to specifically think about accessibility in terms of people with physical, emotional, intellectual and mental disabilities.
Included in our coworking group today were: a WordPress web developer, a midwife, a multimedia designer and myself, a writer and community organizer. Therefore, our discussion ranged across the many ways our “work” might be currently inaccessible to folks with a variety of disabilities, mostly as it related to our chosen professional work, but also as it related to being a thoughtful member of the human race.
Here are some action items, tips and resources that we discussed — please comment with any additional ideas! We would love for this to be a growing resource for folks who care about making their work more accessible.
Use Instagram’s new feature to add alt text to Instagram posts
Less than a week ago, Instagram finally rolled out alt text fields for Instagram feed posts! This was long overdue, and many folks have long been adding visual image descriptions into the text captions of their posts, for those who are sight-impaired. To use this feature, tap “Advanced Settings” during the captioning phase of creating your post, and you can add a description of the image you’re using right there!
Add captions to videos and Instagram Stories
Allowing closed captions on your videos is a simple yet significant way to implement accessibility into your work. You can add them easily on your YouTube videos using the Video Manager. If you post talking videos on Instagram Stories, you can also use apps like Clipomatic (thanks, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for the visibility bump on this app!) to caption your voice for folks in the hearing-impaired community.
Follow accessibility best practices on your website
This is a complex field and there are folks whose entire jobs it is to make sure websites are compliant with accessibility best practices. But the first step is knowing that these best practices exist! If you have a website and are DIY-ing it, a few high-level tips are: use the alt-tags feature on all of your site’s images (adding text describing the image, for those with screen-reading software — here’s how to do it with Adobe tools), use correct header tags/hierarchy in your copy (again, folks with sight impairments use screen readers and text not formatted with proper header tags don’t allow screen readers to scan/skip to sections to review a page), don’t hide text inside images without adding alt text, be careful when using colors to make sure text/images are in contrast enough with the background that they are legible to color blind folks… there are many other best practices, but these are a few to start for the layperson. For more resources, ask your web developer friends or do a good Google.
Provide a way for people to submit accessibility requests for your events
This is something that Feminist Oasis has not been doing, and we commit to do going forward — explicitly stating in every event description that we welcome and will do our best to accommodate any accessibility requests. We also plan to create an email address specifically for these requests, an “access@” email to underscore that this is a priority for us. While we do our best to caption videos, provide amplification for speakers, etc., going the extra step to let people know that if they have a specific request, we want to accommodate it, is important. If you organize events, consider adding this to your event descriptions! It costs you nothing, and can mean the difference between a person with accessibility needs feeling welcome or not at your event.
Consider wheelchair and limited mobility access at locations
Most official event venues are legally required to be accessible to folks in wheelchairs, but you may need to do some creative thinking if you’re using a location that isn’t a commercially-zoned event space or office. Another example of thinking about accessibility was a recent TEDx event I organized — during a feedback session it was brought up that it would have been more accessible if we’d put handrails on our stairs leading up onstage for our post-event after-party. There was a ramp accessible on request, but thinking beyond wheelchairs to include considering folks who might be older or less physically comfortable with stairs without a railing was not a consideration you may always think about.
Allow space for community agreements for mental health, emotional or sensory requests
At #FeministsWafflesWork we start each session with introductions and then community agreements, where we welcome any requests for how we all show up. This can include requests to not talk about certain triggering topics or news items, sensory requests, etc. If you’re having a tough mental health day, month or year, or if you have mental and emotional disabilities, creating space to welcome any community agreement requests can be what makes the difference for you being able to show up and fully participate in an experience.
Consider women with disabilities when talking about feminist issues like bodily autonomy and reproductive justice
The broader issue of accessibility is a consideration of particular significance to those of us who call ourselves feminists. There is a danger of forgetting our sisters with disabilities when we talk about reproductive justice, bodily autonomy and rights over our own bodies. As Lucy Webster wrote in an article on feminism and disabilities for Buzzfeed: “So much of modern feminism relies on the ideal of female bodies that work as expected. For me and lots of other disabled people, that’s a model we simply don’t fit.” Something to keep in mind as we work together towards a more equitable world!
We know there are many, many more ways that accessibility for disabled folks can be addressed through our work. Please comment below with additional considerations that you have thought about in your own work, or that you would like us all to consider in ours!