Communities Making Accessible Transportation: How We Can Work Together

Easterseals Accessible Transportation

By Jeremy Johnson-Miller

“How did you get here today?”

For many, this may never be a second thought, but for others, it is a daily reminder of the extra planning and reliance of others needed to get where they need to go. Many disabled people understand this well – whether it’s figuring out accessible public transit routes (Does this station have a working elevator? Does this bus route get me close to where I need to go?) or wondering if you will encounter ableism on your journey (Will a taxi pass me by when they see I use a wheelchair? Will people question my service animal?).

Even when someone reaches their destination, they may still encounter obstacles in their travel. A crack or broken sidewalk may not hinder someone who is not disabled, but for others it could mean they can’t use that route and must go blocks out of their way or even into the street to bypass the damaged pathways.

Transportation offers independence for people with disabilities, allowing them to get to school, work and social activities, but when one of these connections fails, it can disrupt their entire day or week.

Throughout my career, I met some amazing people who let me learn about life from their perspective.

Jeremy standing next to his aunt, and both standing beside a bus.

Jeremy and Aunt Nancy

My passion for transportation started at an early age; my aunt Nancy had poor eyesight that barred her from driving, but that did not stop her from living a full life — she passed that life skill along to me. I would meet her downtown during summer breaks for lunch, picking out a book at the library and, of course, ice cream.

Michelle lives downtown and works several blocks away and uses a motorized wheelchair to traverse the city, but in the winter or during construction season, the path of travel is often blocked or unsafe. Michelle uses the phrase “the sidewalks are my roads” when speaking to city leaders about the importance of sidewalks for her to thrive, and if those fail, she is unable to succeed.

Immanuel lives and works along a bus route, but also values social life beyond work. Immanuel has used a wheelchair his entire life, but because of the limited hours of operation for transportation, he often says, “it’s like I am a 30-year-old with a curfew.” The bus does not operate after 10pm and they cannot go to a late movie or stay out late with friends.

Jeremy kneeling next to Michelle who is using a wheelchair

Jeremy and Michelle

These are only a few stories from my 10-plus years working in transportation, but I have a motivation to keep going, nonetheless. People like Michelle and Immanuel, and of course Aunt Nancy, make me want to keep learning and showing up for those who cannot.

Part of my job at Easterseals is sharing ways all of us can make a difference in accessible transportation.

Here are a few actionable items:

  • The work we can do starts off with being aware of our surroundings and making sure there is adequate space for everyone to navigate walkways or paths.
  • If you notice obstacles blocking a sidewalk, driveway, or building entrance, find the appropriate person to move them.
  • If you are a business owner, make sure your signage or furniture is not blocking a path.
  • Notice an elevator is out of order? Tell the building staff, even if you don’t need the elevator.
  • During snow season, make sure your sidewalks are shoveled.
  • Attend town meetings to advocate for safe crosswalks and paths of travel.

Working for an organization like Easterseals has allowed me to put that knowledge into action and continue to create an accessible world for all. Easterseals offers vital resources like customized training and technical expertise on the Americans with Disabilities Act for transportation providers; develops resources to support organizations in their efforts to connect with transportation and mobility services in their community; and identifies organizations in your state, region, or local community that could connect you to the most appropriate transportation services and support the development of coordinated transportation networks.

To make safer, more accessible communities, we must plan transit alongside the disability community. They are the experts on their needs — we can connect with them to advocate and get the attention of government and transit officials. This is and should be a community effort as it benefits all of us to have accessible public transportation options.

To learn more about the Easterseals Transportation Group and what we are doing to create more equitable access to services and settings that everyone should be able to enjoy, visit our website.

Jeremy Johnson-Miller is the Communications Manager for the National Aging and Disability Transportation Center (NADTC) at Easterseals, a federally recognized technical assistance center funded by the Federal Transit Administration, focused on ADA accessibility for older adults and people with disabilities across the country. Jeremy coordinates the release of publications and reports from NADTC, also conducting training and group facilitation for transportation agencies and state DOTs across the country. Prior to joining Easterseals, Jeremy served as Mobility Programs Administrator at Iowa DOT Public Transit Bureau for 6.5 years, providing guidance and oversight of state and federally funded grant programs, also overseeing outreach and collaboration with communities and other state departments within Iowa. Jeremy holds a bachelors in Geography from the University of Iowa and is a Certified Public Manager from Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.

 

Level Up: Disability Employment in Gaming

Gaming and Inclusion. Photos of gamers with disabilities

By Grant Stoner

As a medium, video games allow us to remain connected. Whether it’s long-distance relationships or friendships, or the inability to physically or cognitively access a space, gaming is crucial in creating lifelong memories. And for some individuals, it’s one of the few mediums that anyone can explore, regardless of disability. According to Xbox, approximately 429 million players globally have some form of a disability.

The gaming industry is multifaceted through the opportunities it provides to both consumers and employees. From varying roles in studios, to content creation and media, there are numerous jobs to satisfy an array of interests. For disabled people especially, the capability to work fully remote, as well as create your own position in a massive industry is crucial for accessibility and independence. For this story, we spoke with a disabled streamer, member of the press, and consultant to explore why they work in gaming, the ways in which it could be more accessible, and their hopes for the future of employment for disabled individuals in this industry.

Mollie Evans

Mollie “LittleMoTac” Evans is a content creator and DE&I consultant who regularly streams on platforms like Twitch, YouTube, and TikTok. For Evans, her career in streaming was a direct result of inaccessibility in her previous job. Yet, despite the independence, being a content creator can still be demanding, especially for a disabled individual.

Mollie, with long blue hair sits in a gaming chair, and they are giving the peace sign“Streaming is both accessible and not accessible,” Evans said. “The streaming part itself is accessible, in that it allows me to make my own schedule, and I can work it around my disabilities. However, the inaccessible part is the demand for content creators to constantly be networking, attending events and continuously pushing out content. I cannot attend events, and if I can they’re incredible stressful, so all my work networking has basically been done online, which thankfully is becoming a more acceptable side of content creation.”

Aside from the challenges of growing and maintaining connections and an audience, disabled streamers and content creators need to purchase most, if not all their own equipment. Sponsorships and viewers are all dependent on what content you create, how often you go live, and the quality of broadcasts. It’s a career that can be physically, cognitively, and financially demanding. However, it provides unique methods to directly promote views, knowledge, and expertise on topics that each creator intimately understands. And for Evans, that means using streams and videos to educate about the disabled experience.

“Disability, for me, is such an integral part of who I am and my life. I don’t have a choice to hide how it affects me, and so I have been very open about it from very early on in my time streaming and creating content,” she said. “I have always been very open about my symptoms, and how they affect me on the day-to-day, especially as invisible disabilities are still so often disregarded. I feel like it was important for me to be open about it. A lot of my content now focuses on accessibility and disability in gaming, but also about inclusion of marginalized people in gaming in general.”

While streaming can always be more inclusive, especially through sponsored events pertaining to disabled communities, Evans can have a career in games because of her platform.

Antonio Martínez

Editor In Chief and Mobility Editor for Game Accessibility Nexus, Antonio Martínez creates and edits articles pertaining to accessibility and the disabled experience in games. Martínez’ stories help to inform disabled individuals about potential barriers they may experience with games. With a passion for writing, he is hopeful that his stories can educate, and occasionally protect disabled consumers. However, as a disabled member of the press, he regularly encounters his own inaccessible hurdles while trying to produce work for the public.

Antonio, wearing glasses and a blue shirt smiling “I must say over the years it has become less and less accessible for me,” Martínez said. “SMA (Spinal Muscular Atrophy) causes strength, endurance and mobility loss as time passes. I can’t use a physical keyboard as I used to, so it’s been years now with an on-screen keyboard. Voice dictation doesn’t work well for me due to my voice being inconsistent, not to mention my accent. In English it can go from totally wrong to acceptable. In Spanish, my native language, it works better.”

Beyond the lack of physical stamina and accessible technology, being a journalist dedicated exclusively to accessibility can be difficult. Despite the increased innovations across most AAA and Indie studios, establishing connections with PR companies and their respective studios is a constant struggle to prove the importance of highlighting accessible information. And when review codes are distributed, Martínez needs to consistently play, write, or edit to provide accurate information. Sometimes, as he notes, this can include stories with “over 4000+ words and that’s draining.” Yet, he is proud of the work he accomplishes, and is hopeful that more stories and more exposure will lead to opportunities for disabled journalists.

“I hope we get the chance to write in more mainstream media, about games, accessibility, disability, or any subject,” he said. “Disability is always part of our lives, and nobody is better than us to speak about things that we experience daily, but we are more than that. Limiting us to certain subjects is not fair. We have the same interests and hobbies as anyone else, disabled or not. Sports, history, science, entertainment, social issues, you name it.”

As accessibility knowledge and implementation continues to grow in gaming, journalists are desperately needed to cover these important topics. Martínez and others are opening career opportunities with every story.

Paul Lane

Accessibility consultant, Paul Lane has credits in some of the most accessible AAA titles. From The Last of Us, to Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, Lane’s career in consulting is only possible because of his lived experience as a physically disabled individual.

Paul wearing a beanie and a lanyard around his neck. He is using his wheelchair at a convention“What drew me to consulting was the opportunity to leverage my unique perspective as both an able-bodied and disabled gamer to improve the gaming experience for others,” Lane said. “I can share the frustrations I’ve faced as a disabled gamer and use that knowledge to advocate for better accessibility features. Companies and studios that I work with go the extra mile to make sure I have everything I need to succeed.”

As his career evolved, Lane was sought by studios to provide his unique expertise to accessibility. And as accessibility grew in popularity, particularly in gaming, other tech companies took notice, offering Lane roles to help make their products and businesses accessible. As the world becomes increasingly aware of accessibility and disabled individuals, Lane is hopeful more accessible consulting opportunities will arise for disabled people, especially in gaming.

“There is a growing awareness of disability rights and inclusion, which is creating a greater demand for accessibility consulting services,” he said. “I hope to see a future where disabled consultants have equal opportunities to succeed in the consulting industry. This includes having access to training, mentorship, and leadership opportunities.”

Streaming, media, and consultancy are only some of the opportunities that disabled individuals can explore for work in gaming. However, even with the increased awareness, accessibility and disabled inclusion still requires constant learning and understanding. While it’s great to see more disabled people enter the workforce, better resources, tools, and assistants are required before we can truly claim gaming is an inclusive industry.

Grant Stoner is a disabled journalist covering accessibility and the disabled perspective in the gaming industry. When not writing, he is usually screaming about Pokémon or his cat, Goomba, on social media.

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Beyond Content Notices: Mental Health Accessibility in Gaming

Gaming and Inclusion. Photos of gamers with disabilities

Editor’s Note: This blog contains mentions of suicide, self-harm, and panic attacks.

By Coty Craven

Imagine this scenario:

You’re enduring a depressive episode. You’re isolated, you’re no good at asking for help, or maybe mental health care is inaccessible to you. The current state of the world is not helping things and suicidal ideation remains stuck at the back of your mind because nothing is showing any signs of getting better. You’re longing for a break from what you’re feeling and video games have always provided you with that, so you fire up the latest game you’ve just downloaded.

Instead of that desperately needed break, the first thing you’re met with is a cutscene in which a young woman is willing herself to commit suicide. Now the one place you can often find an escape is mirroring your reality and you had no idea that would happen when you bought the game. What goes through your mind?

Games are a powerful medium. Some of the most important relationships in my life began because of a shared love of them. I’ve used games as a tool to navigate grief, loneliness, and depression. I’ve cried during the death of a character I’ve spent dozens of hours with in a fictional world and agonized over who to pursue romantic relationships with in games that feature them. Games are a unique medium in that they put us in control of the characters and events in the way books, TV, and movies cannot. In games, we walk into the burning buildings, carry out acts of war, and face the deaths of loved ones. Given games’ unique nature, we can be impacted by them in unique ways.

The necessity – and the dire state – of mental health accessibility in games was recently brought into sharp focus for me a few months ago during what I’d intended to be a relaxing gaming session after my weekly therapy appointment. Undergoing EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) therapy for a fire-related trauma, my session had been difficult with time spent recalling and focusing on the memory of the trauma I was processing. My therapist prescribed self-care and being gentle with myself as my homework that day and asked me to avoid triggers related to the work we were doing. My method of choice for self-care? Time spent continuing my fifth play through of one of my favorite games, The Witcher 3.

Screenshot of The Witcher 3, Geralt running in a burning building

Screenshot from The Witcher 3.

Still on edge from EMDR, I launched the game and snuggled up on the couch with my dogs. Continuing the main quest line, I led Geralt to Crow’s Perch, the Bloody Baron’s hold in Velen. Geralt ran toward the castle where alarm bells were ringing and as he approached, the unmistakable roar of fire filled the air. I’ve played this game five times and knew precisely what to do. Run to the burning barn, climb the ladder, free the horses, unblock the barn door, and save the trapped man. But this time it was different. This time, the roar of flames was fresh in my mind, the urgency of escape and safety my only focus. My chest became tight and my vision narrowed. I could feel my heartbeat in my teeth and the metallic taste of adrenaline filled my mouth. Before I knew it, I, too, was surrounded by flames and choking on smoke.

From the safety of my home, this quest in a game I’ve played countless times brought on a panic attack. This usually mundane quest didn’t even cross my mind as being potentially triggering when I sat down to enjoy the game. I later asked my therapist why this time, what had changed since the first five playthroughs? She explained that my brain was essentially more primed for panic from things related to the trauma we were processing together because the event and all the emotions related to it were fresh and top of mind because we were revisiting them through EMDR. She also explained that it wouldn’t always be like that, which was a relief because I just wanted to enjoy time with Geralt.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) one in five adults and one in six youth in the US experience mental illness every year. Among them are PTSD, depression, and anxiety. With 65% of the US population playing video games (ESA, 2023) it’s safe to say that far more than just me stands to have their mental health impacted by video game content.

The games industry has made massive strides in accessibility in recent years with the launches of games like Forza Motorsport and Stories of Blossom and updates to games like Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 which brought audio description and full closed captions among many other improvements. Though we still have a ways to go, games can be enjoyed by more people than ever before. There’s one area in which we’re still regularly failing in accessibility though – mental health. While we are seeing many games addressing things like thalassophobia (the fear of deep water) and arachnophobia, there’s still little being done to aid gamers with things like PTSD, anxiety, and depression beyond the general “this game contains depictions of…” warning many games display upon launching them. If your mental health could be impacted or even harmed by content such as structure fires, racist violence, or the death of a child, there’s not really a standard in place to support you in making your gaming choices. So what’s a person to do if like me, they’ve been given instructions to avoid triggering topics and have no way to tell what they may experience in a game?

Screenshot of Chicory, a game that shows an option to skip content about depression

Chicory: A Colorful Tale allows gamers to skip certain content.

In the Xbox Accessibility Guidelines, Microsoft offers guidance on how to support players wanting to protect their mental health. They advise providing players with information on game and story content and tools to skip or avoid potentially triggering content. Recently, we’ve seen more games trying to address mental health. Horizon Forbidden West patched in a thalassophobia mode which lessens the deep water effect for underwater areas. Lethal Company has an arachnophobia mode which turns all in-game spiders into the word “Spider.” The Dead Space Remake has a robust content warning system that allows players to both be warned when triggering content is coming up and skip it entirely, similar to that of Chicory: A Colorful Tale.

So many of us play games both to connect and escape and nothing can wrench someone out of that joyful place quite like being unknowingly confronted with something traumatic or triggering. As conversations on mental health become more and more commonplace and accepted, I hope that games can catch up to meet the needs of those of us who love the medium and want to protect our peace by building better and more thoughtful content warning systems, so we can enjoy our hobby while also caring for ourselves.

Coty Craven is a game accessibility and inclusion expert and the founder of game accessibility sites Can I Play That and the Game Content Triggers Database. He lives in Michigan with his dogs and works as a project manager at Descriptive Video Works. He loves exploring fictional worlds in games and exploring the outside world on hikes.

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Love is Advocating for Accessible Public Transit

Easterseals Love and Relationships. Collage of various adults, children, showing love by hugging and talking

By Mike Ervin

Every once in a while, I have what I call a “green-bus nightmare”: I’m out and about and all of a sudden, a public transit bus goes by and it’s painted green and there are three big steps inside the front door — so it’s inaccessible as hell for someone who uses a wheelchair, like me.

The public transit buses in Chicago are much different today. They’re painted white, red and blue and inside the front door is a ramp that flips out onto the curb when the driver flips a switch so a wheelchair user can roll right in.

Man using a wheelchair and driving up a public bus liftSo in my nightmare, I’m mad as a hornet when I see the green bus go by. I say to myself, “What the hell is this? I thought those inaccessible buses were long gone!”

And then I wake up and realize it was just a bad dream.

But that’s how things were in Chicago prior to 1990, when the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law. The ADA requires that all public transit buses put into service must be wheelchair accessible. But without any federal mandate like that, there wasn’t a single accessible bus in the street fleet of the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA). You can imagine how frustrating that was for anyone who didn’t have the physical ability to board CTA buses. It was as if the CTA system didn’t even exist. To give people today some context on that situation, I ask people to imagine that the entire CTA system is suddenly and indefinitely shut down! How would that impact their lives? How would they get around? How isolated, abandoned and angry would they feel?

This is why I became an activist. I graduated from college in 1978 and I was living with my mother and sister in the house in which I was raised. The house was on a main street and a green CTA bus passed by several times a day. Come about 1983 or so, I began hearing word-of-mouth tales from other disabled folks about a group of disabled activists in Denver, Colorado who called themselves American Disabled for Accessible Public Transportation (ADAPT). There were public transit buses with wheelchair lifts in operation in Denver mostly because ADAPT organized aggressive protests where people in wheelchairs did things like surround inaccessible buses that were on the street waiting at intersections. The protesters wouldn’t move for several hours so the bus couldn’t move either. And sometimes ADAPTers even got arrested for protesting like that.

Right around that same time, a man from Chicago named Kent Jones, who used a wheelchair, went to Denver to attend an ADAPT organizing training for people from around the country. When he returned, he called a meeting for the purpose of organizing a local chapter of ADAPT.

I attended the meeting because I was mad. Hearing about the exploits of Denver ADAPT forever changed my perspective on those green buses that passed my house daily. I now saw them as an essential public facility as much as city hall or the library. Thus, I was mad at myself that I wasn’t as mad a lot sooner as I was now about what the inaccessibility of that public facility meant. It meant that if I wanted to go somewhere, I either had to spend a lot of money purchasing a vehicle and adapting it to be accessible, spend a lot of money hiring an accessible vehicle such as a med-i-car, to take me there or just forget about it and not go. But if my neighbors who weren’t wheelchair users wanted to go somewhere, all they had to do was wait at the bus stop. And that meant that those who designed the CTA thought that disabled people like me never could or should use it.

The ADAPT principle of direct-action protest says that you take your demands directly to the person or entity that has the power to meet your demands. In our case, that was the seven-member CTA board of directors. Four are appointed by the mayor of Chicago and three are appointed by the governor of Illinois.

So for our first action, we attended one of their monthly public board meetings where all of their decisions are made. We presented our demands and the first one was that every bus that they ordered from now on must be equipped with a wheelchair lift. We disrupted the meeting with chanting and noisemakers to demonstrate our resolve.

Love is Advocating for Accessible Public Transit

ADAPT protesters during the lead up to the passage of the ADA.

But the CTA board voted unanimously not to include lifts on any new buses. So we continued disrupting their meetings, blocking traffic in our wheelchairs so buses couldn’t get through and staging similarly aggressive but nonviolent protests. Sometimes we got arrested. We also pursued a discrimination lawsuit against the CTA with the help of pro-bono lawyers.

The lawsuit eventually went to trial and in January of 1988, the judge who presided over the trial ruled that CTA illegally discriminated against the disabled under state law by not having any mainline accessibility. Shortly after that, the CTA board, which now had a member who was a wheelchair user who was an ardent ADAPT supporter and had been appointed by Mayor Hafold Washington, voted 6-1 to equip future buses with wheelchair lifts.

And shortly after that, the ADA was signed.

When I reflect on all this, I feel our campaign to make public transit accessible was motivated by love — love for ourselves as people with disabilities and love for the disabled community. It’s true that we simply wanted more freedom to travel independently. But there was much more to it than that. It was so important to us because we were insulted that we were being denied a basic freedom just because we were disabled. We loved and respected ourselves and each other too much to accept the notion that we deserved and should settle for less because of our disabilities. We deserved to be accommodated and included and we wouldn’t take no for an answer.

We also hoped that bringing about this change would pay dividends far into the future, not just by making it easier for further generators of disabled people to get from one place to another but by lessening the debilitating sting of disability stigma, which is so often used to rationalize exclusion. The more we are a natural element of the daily routines of people whose lives aren’t affected by disability, the less they will be inclined to believe that we don’t deserve to be among them. And hopefully that has made and will make it easier for others to break down the many other walls of disability segregation.

A famous quote by Che Guevara is, “the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality.”

Regardless of one’s opinion of Che Guevara, he was sure right about that.

Mike Ervin is a writer and disability-rights activist living in Chicago. He is a columnist for the Progressive magazine and writes the blog Smart Ass Cripple.

 

 

Beyond Compliance: Fostering Accessibility, Inclusion, and Cultural Humility

Easterseals Love and Relationships. Collage of various adults, children, showing love by hugging and talking

By Andrea Jennings 

Community Love: Cultural Humility and Accessible Solutions

In the tapestry of human experience, accessibility is intertwined with love, shaping the fabric of a compassionate and inclusive society. One example is disability justice advocate Mia Mingus, who coined the term “access intimacy,” which describes the feeling when someone who is not necessarily from the disabled community understands your access needs. 

As February unfolds with the celebration of Valentine’s Day, it’s an opportune time to reflect on how we all share love, express love, and foster accessibility, extending the significance beyond mere observance to embody a lifestyle of inclusion, cultural humility, and genuine care.

Andrea wearing a dress and standing in front of a flowered background From childhood, I was fortunate to learn the true essence of love from my mother, particularly during Valentine’s Day. It wasn’t just about exchanging chocolates and flowers and embodying Agape love—selfless, unconditional, and inclusive. My mother’s teachings transcended romantic notions, emphasizing the importance of spreading love beyond our immediate circles. Together, we embarked on a tradition of making Valentine’s cards for friends and everyone in my class, ensuring no one felt left out. This act of kindness extended to our family members, neighbors, and anyone who crossed our path. Through these gestures, my mother instilled in me the belief that love knows no bounds and should be shared generously with all.

Reflecting on my upbringing, I realize the parallels between love, accessibility, and cultural humility. Accessibility is not merely a privilege or favor but a fundamental aspect of humanity. Just as we wouldn’t frame love as a favor granted to select individuals, accessibility should not be viewed as something we should be grateful for. It is a basic human need and a right for all individuals.

Fostering accessibility is a manifestation of love in action. It removes physical, social, and systemic barriers that hinder full societal participation. Whether implementing wheelchair ramps, providing signage, or offering assistive technologies, accessibility ensures everyone has equity and equal opportunities to engage, participate, and succeed. 

Cultural humility serves as a crucial aspect of fostering accessibility and inclusion. It empowers us to recognize our own biases and privileges while actively seeking to respect the experiences of others. By approaching interactions with humility, openness, and a willingness to learn, we create spaces where diversity is celebrated and everyone feels valued and included.

Romantic Love: Challenging and Removing Microaggressions and Assumptions

In addition to advocating for ourselves, Disabled individuals often face micro aggressive comments and assumptions when it comes to romantic relationships. Society’s narrow perceptions of disability can lead to intrusive questions and misguided beliefs about the nature of our relationships.

Microaggressions can manifest in various forms, such as asking personal questions that would not be directed at non-disabled individuals or making assumptions about the dynamics of our relationships based on our disabilities. For example, comments like “you’re so lucky to have a partner despite your disability” overlook the possibility that both partners contribute equally to the relationship or that the non-disabled partner may also benefit from the relationship.

A large red flower in bloom

Flower photography by Andrea

These microaggressions not only perpetuate harmful stereotypes but also undermine the autonomy and agency of disabled individuals in romantic relationships. Instead of being seen as capable of experiencing love and intimacy on their own terms, disabled individuals are often objectified or pitied, reinforcing the notion of their otherness.

Challenging these microaggressions in our community and the media requires a commitment to dismantling ableism and fostering genuine inclusivity in all aspects of society. Changing those perceptions is one way we shift paradigms.

Self-Love: Being Kind To Ourselves While Advocating

Advocating for ourselves in a world that often overlooks or dismisses our needs can be exhausting. Not only do we face external barriers to accessibility, but we also frequently find ourselves in the position of having to justify our disabilities and access requirements. This constant need to explain and defend our existence can affect our mental and emotional well-being.

While advocating for our rights and pushing against the status quo, it’s crucial to remember the importance of self-love. This means being kind and compassionate to ourselves. Self-love entails acknowledging our worthiness and deservingness of respect and accommodation without needing to justify or apologize for our disabilities. 

While in college, I asked for a specific accommodation, and that instructor replied, “oh yes, I know you want this to be easy-peasy.” Not only was this comment unnecessary, but it was condescending in nature and an example of microaggression that I often encountered. After these constant assumptions, it is important to remind ourselves of our worth.

Woman sitting in front of an old ornate doorway wearing a flowing red dressEmbracing self-love while advocating for ourselves is an act of self-preservation and a radical resistance against ableism and discrimination. It allows us to reclaim our narratives and assert our agency in spaces that often seek to marginalize us and not recognize our autonomy. Advocating for accessibility and recognizing our independence becomes pivotal in this context.

Self-love also involves setting boundaries and prioritizing our well-being. It means recognizing when to rest and recharge and not feeling guilty for prioritizing self-care.

Integrating the understanding of the spoon theory offers valuable insight into managing energy levels for those with chronic illnesses or disabilities, reinforcing the importance of self-care and advocating for our well-being. Within this framework, acknowledging the nature of energy reserves and learning to pace activities enables individuals to prioritize their well-being and cultivate a sustainable approach to self-care.

Moreover, self-love empowers us to challenge internalized ableism and embrace our disabilities as integral parts of our identities. Instead of viewing our disabilities as something we need to change, we can celebrate them as unique aspects of who we are and understand it is the barriers that need to change. This allows us to embrace our authenticity and cultivate a sense of empowerment and pride in ourselves.

In conclusion, prioritizing accessibility and cultivating love in various spheres — community love, romantic love, and self-love — is vital for fostering inclusivity and empowerment. By collectively prioritizing accessibility, challenging microaggressions, and promoting nurturing self-compassion, we construct a world where every individual’s worth and uniqueness are celebrated.

Andrea, Black woman with brown curly hairAndrea Jennings, M.Mus., is a Disability & Accessibility Strategist, Actress, and filmmaker passionate about music, law, and entertainment. Her journey led to creating Shifting Creative Paradigms – Leveling The Playing Field® Multi-Media Production Co., advocating for social justice through Disability culture, film, music, and art. Her work has graced prestigious platforms like Park Avenue Armory, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Rutgers University. Her work is also recognized in Forbes, Billboard Magazine, The Atlantic Magazine, The Hollywood Reporter, and The New York Times.

Season 1, Love Dating and Relationships. A phone with the cover of the Easterseals podcast showing. The podcast is Everything You Know About Disability is Wrong

 

Access and Inclusion: Acts of Love in the Disability Community

Easterseals Love and Relationships. Collage of various adults, children, showing love by hugging and talking

By Alicia Krage

Since moving in with my boyfriend last year, I’ve thought a lot about the various ways I can show love, especially around this time of year. We’re often thinking about love this month as Valentine’s Day approaches.

I’ve learned that showing love, especially in a relationship, could mean accommodating your partner’s disability, or learning how your disability coincides with your relationship. It’s important to create a space of acceptance and inclusion while also addressing the other person’s access needs. It’s in these simple acts that I feel show the most love because it addresses that, yes, we are both blind, but this doesn’t have to be a defining factor — as people or as part of our relationship. This comes into play when planning trips, too. For example, Juan and I are taking a trip to San Antonio in a few months and, while it’s not a far trip, it’s our first solo trip together. This means making accessible travel plans, as well as researching accessible touristy activities we can do. Juan is really into artsy things, so we’re looking into tactile art museums that we’d be able to enjoy. I think dating with a disability allows us all to become open minded about different ways of doing things and different accommodations that can be made.

We are standing outside the restaurant. I'm wearing a sundress and he's wearing a blue shirt

Alicia and her partner, Juan

This could apply to platonic relationships as well, which is something I’ve thought about immensely since relocating from Chicago to Houston. I remember a conversation I had with my mom on my last night in my hometown. She asked me what I was most nervous about, and the answer came easily: “Making friends. Because making friends as an adult is hard.” Almost a year later, I realize that wasn’t anything I needed to worry about.

Aside from the friends I’d made during previous visits, I only have a few new friends here, but that’s okay. I like my circle small.

I met my closest friend Desiree at a book club. I found it on Facebook, actually, because how else do people meet outside of college or work? I didn’t know. She posted asking if anyone was interested in joining one, so I responded. We messaged here and there and swapped numbers. Closer to the date of the first meeting, I told her that I’m blind and please look out for me during the first meeting because I wouldn’t know where to find anyone. Unphased, she said, “Absolutely! I’ll help in any way I can!”

Since then, our friendship grew outside of book club and evolved into constant texting, exchanging book recommendations and exploring various local coffee shops and going out for the occasional brunch. I know it seems trivial to say, but I’ve never felt like “her blind friend.” I’m just her friend who needs help sometimes. She’ll let me know what type of place we’re going to — if you just walk up to the counter and order or if it’s a sit-down place — in case I arrive first. If we’re going out for a meal, she’ll always ask if I need her to read me the menu. When I went to her house the weekend before Valentine’s Day for a “Galentine’s Day” get-together, we played games, but they were simple enough that I could definitely participate. I constantly feel loved in our friendship because she has always provided me a space to be myself, to advocate for my needs without feeling like I’m asking for too much, and meeting my access needs.

My family has always been good at this, too. It’s in the way they adapt card games if necessary, or plan accessible activities during family vacations. They also recently started activating audio description when we watch TV shows or movies. My mom always said that the people audio describing know what information is important, so it’s better to have that feature turned on. I felt weird about it at first because I thought it would annoy them and it would be hard for them to tune out. But they assured me several times that they didn’t mind. And so that’s how we’ve been doing things.

A young man, Juan, has his arm around a young woman, Alicia, at a restaurantI’m fortunate to feel so loved in all of my relationships — romantic, platonic, and familial — because my blindness has been something to accommodate at times but nothing that has ever felt like an inconvenience. And I’ve learned that those are the people you surround yourself with. Enjoying time with family comes easy because I know it’s second nature to them to adapt things.

Enjoying time with friends, old and new, comes easily because they’ll accommodate me too, and if they are new to this and don’t know how, they’ll ask. I’ve assured them that if they ever have questions about my blindness, it’s always okay to ask. I can’t expect them to provide a safe space for me if I don’t do the same for them. By providing a safe space for them to ask questions, they do so and accommodate as necessary — and provide a safe space for me, too.

All of this has taught me what love really is. A lot of people think acts of love are these big, grand gestures showcased in TV shows, movies, and books, but it’s those little things that really matter. I used to be stuck in that comparison trap in relationships and wanting my partner to show me the kind of love I read about, or saw in all those rom-coms, but I’ve learned to stop looking for that because that’s all fiction. And I’ve learned to truly appreciate those who show love in the disabled community by educating themselves on our disability, whether someone is blind, deaf or hard-of-hearing, uses a wheelchair, etc. I have friends with all types of disabilities which helps me understand what love is to them, too. It’s educating and asking questions, wanting to learn. It’s learning their story and any accommodations they may need if you choose to meet up, and making things accessible to them. It’s finding audio described media, or wheelchair accessible restaurants, or providing the closed-captioning headset in movie theaters. There are many ways to show love to people with disabilities, and it’s often in the smallest ways that mean the most.

Alicia Krage is a graduate of Northern Illinois University. She relocated to Houston, Texas in early 2023 where she found a great community of people with disabilities. She has a passion for writing, centering her posts on advocacy, inclusivity, and relationships as a totally blind person.

Season 1, Love Dating and Relationships. A phone with the cover of the Easterseals podcast showing. The podcast is Everything You Know About Disability is Wrong

Tune in to the Easterseals podcast, Everything You Know About Disability is Wrong

 

Accessible Transportation: A Lifeline to Connect Individuals to Their Communities

Easterseals Accessible Transportation

By Andrea Jennings

Accessible transportation serves as the lifeline for many individuals, fostering connections to communities, enabling access to essential services, and promoting independence. We will explore the impact of an accessible transportation process for all and the importance of accessible design in transportation services, from booking transportation, accessible drop-off and pick-up locations, and seamless connections to arriving at destinations with undamaged mobility aids.

The Seamless Transition: A Personal Anecdote

A Black woman using a black cane with a black baseball cap covering her dark brown shoulder-length curly hair is posing by a blue suitcase at a hotel, waiting for her transportation to the airport.As someone who uses multiple mobility aids, I have experienced the impact of navigating different modes of transportation with different mobility aids. I use leg braces, canes, and walkers, depending on my muscle weakness and fatigue level. I often use a wheelchair for traveling as it preserves my energy and reduces my risk of falling. I vividly recall a journey emphasizing the importance of an accessible, seamless transition for transportation. On my way to an essential conference in my industry to connect me to my peers and the community, I faced barriers due to a lack of communication between the transportation company’s staff members.

Boarding the train, my intended mode of transportation for that day, was accessible, but connecting to a bus ride through that carrier posed potential barriers. Once I exited the train to transfer to the bus, I could not find any clear instructions or signage to tell me where I could safely wait for the connecting bus and where the bus would arrive. If it had not been for my personal care attendant, who could track down staff members eventually, I might have missed the bus. I should have been able to travel independently with accessibility procedures integrated into the process of transferring from the same carrier’s train to their bus connection. This process could be more seamless, benefiting everyone. This is a great time to mention that hiring persons with lived experience in leadership positions as executives is essential to ensure that different perspectives are included when planning or restructuring designs. Accessible transportation ensures that individuals can move from one mode to another effortlessly and facilitates a sense of connection within the community.

Time Constraints and Accessible Share Rides

A colleague and friend, project manager Ushonda Wilson, highlighted a significant issue within accessible share rides – time constraints. Ushonda explained that she had to leave a work-related community event early because her mode of transportation, which included a train and a ride-share service, only ensured accessible services up to a specific time of day. Time restraints create barriers because Ushonda was excluded from full participation in an important work-community and career-enhancing event. While some of these ride-share services are cost effective, these services often impose strict time limits, hindering individuals with disabilities from thoroughly enjoying community or career-related events. By shedding light on these limitations, we can advocate for more flexible and inclusive policies allowing everyone to travel to work and participate in community activities without undue restrictions.

Drop-Off and Pick-Up Stations: Signage is Essential

Ride-share services play a pivotal role in accessible transportation. Well-defined drop-off and pick-up stations make a significant difference in the effectiveness of these services. Clear signage ensures that designated areas highlight and promote a smooth, accessible, stress-free travel experience.

Shelter and Safety While Waiting

While waiting for transportation, shelter and safety provisions are integral to the transportation experience. Covered waiting areas protect from the elements, ensuring that rain or harsh weather conditions do not become barriers to accessibility. Again, this is a feature everyone can benefit from; extreme weather conditions aggravate many disabilities. By addressing these concerns, we create an environment that prioritizes the well-being of all passengers.

Training Staff on Accessibility Measures: Understanding Disability Etiquette

A Black woman wearing glasses and using a pink rollator with black wheels stands with one arm on the rollator and the other raised in the air. She has a curly natural hairstyle with blonde highlights, and she is wearing a short waist-length leather black jacket with a pink midriff blouse, blouse, jeans, and white tennis shoes.

A key aspect of accessible transportation is ensuring that the drivers and the entire staff, internally and externally, are well trained to address accessibility measures successfully and adequately assist individuals with disabilities. This training should encompass awareness of different disabilities, sensitivity to diverse access requirements as we are not a monolith, and the ability to identify and support passengers requiring additional assistance beyond compliance. Design improvements that allow us to stay in or use our mobility aids or provide the proper storage of our mobility aids while on board is crucial. There are too many instances where mobility aids have been damaged during travel. These changes not only affect our connection to the community because we fear traveling due to the concern of our mobility aids being damaged, but this affects our health and can be a matter of life and death, as it did in the case of Disability advocate Engracia Figueroa. By doing so, transportation providers create a more accessible and inclusive experience for all.

Contingency Plans for Transportation Companies

Contingency plans are essential in the realm of accessible transportation. Companies should establish protocols for unexpected situations, ensuring that individuals with disabilities are not left stranded or facing undue difficulties. A solution is to address unforeseen challenges such as vehicle breakdowns, road closures, or any other disruptions that may impact the smooth operation of services. Also, disseminate these contingency plans in an accessible format in plain language for all to comprehend.

Well-Trained Staff Across Industries

In addition to transportation companies, various industries play a role in ensuring accessibility. Hotels offering shuttle services, public transportation agencies, and other service providers must invest in training their staff on properly addressing and integrating accessibility throughout their company’s infrastructure. This approach extends the principles of accessible transportation beyond the vehicles themselves, creating a holistic and supportive environment for all.

Connecting to Employment and Essential Services

Accessible transportation is not merely about convenience; it is a gateway to employment opportunities and essential services. For many individuals with disabilities, reliable transportation is the key to accessing workplaces, medical facilities, and educational institutions. By highlighting the role of accessible transportation in connecting people to these vital aspects of life, we underscore its broader societal impact.

Universal Design and Human-Centered Design for Inclusive Transportation

A Black woman with brown curly hair blowing in the wind and a black headband around her hair is wearing a black cane and black leg braces with all back attire on, including a denim jacket blouse and tennis shoes/sneakers. She has white decorative designs on her blouse.A universal design approach to accessible transportation benefits society as a whole. Ramps, wider aisles, and other accessibility features make transportation more human centered and user friendly for all, including parents with strollers, aging adults, and individuals with temporary injuries. Embracing universal design principles enhances the overall accessibility of transportation systems and reinforces the idea that inclusivity benefits everyone.

Promoting Independence Through Accessible Transportation

Perhaps the most profound impact of accessible transportation is the independence it provides. By removing barriers to mobility, these services empower everyone to lead more fulfilling lives, participate actively in their communities, and pursue opportunities that were previously out of reach. Accessible transportation is a service and a catalyst for our future, prioritizing accessibility and serving all communities.

Conclusion

As we work towards a more accessible future, let us recognize how accessible transportation is vital in enriching lives and strengthening the bonds within every community. Accessible transportation is not just a means of getting from point A to point B; it is the lifeline that connects individuals to their communities.

By prioritizing accessible design in all aspects of transportation, from the moment a person books their travel to the moment they arrive at their destination, we can create an accessible and inclusive transportation system that helps all connect to their communities.

The journey toward accessibility requires ongoing collaboration, communication, and a commitment to creating a more connected, inclusive, and accessible society.

Andrea, Black woman with brown curly hairAndrea Jennings, M.Mus., is a Disability & Accessibility Strategist, Actress, and filmmaker passionate about music, law, and entertainment. Her journey led to creating Shifting Creative Paradigms – Leveling The Playing Field® Multi-Media Production Co., advocating for social justice through Disability culture, film, music, and art. Her work has graced prestigious platforms like Park Avenue Armory, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Rutgers University. Her work is also recognized in Forbes, Billboard Magazine, The Atlantic Magazine, The Hollywood Reporter, and The New York Times.

 

Why We Need Accessible Cities

Easterseals Accessible Transportation
By Mids Meinberg

The United States is a car-centered culture. While increasing work-from-home and delivery options do increase the viability of staying at home, there are still a wide variety of tasks that require a person to leave the home. In most of the country, leaving the home means driving to reach that other location. Many disabled people, including myself, are unable to drive because of our disabilities. This cuts us off from so many aspects of culture and life and forces dependence on others for many vital aspects of survival, like medical visits.

The idea of the “walkable city” has become an increasingly popular discussion in online spaces. Essentially, a walkable city is a way of building communities so that all necessary facilities for employment, survival, and entertainment can be reached within a fifteen-minute walk from any given residence. These sorts of integrated communities are more common in Europe. When I lived in a German village, for instance, I was able to reach anything within that village with a short walk, despite living on its outskirts, ranging from cafes to bakeries to the village center. Perhaps more importantly though, I could easily get to a bus stop.

Making walkable cities would require vast overhauls in zoning regulations and existing infrastructure and is not an especially likely outcome, at least in the short term. More achievable, though, is enhanced public transit networks. Where I live now in the suburbs of New Jersey, an area unusually dense in public-transit options for the suburbs, I am a three-mile walk away from the nearest public node, and that is too far for me to be able to walk — even if the route from my home to that bus stop was safe for pedestrians, which it is not!

Accessible travel benefits everyone. Collage of different cities

Denser public transit nodes might be more expensive for municipalities, but the benefits they offer for all citizens cannot be understated. Cars are extremely expensive and force most people to go into heavy debt to acquire one. If people were able to get to where they need to go without driving, then they would be able to more comfortably manage their finances, even for nondisabled people! It is an especially pressing matter for disabled people, though, as a wide variety of disabilities prevent driving.

For me, a combination of low vision and anxiety make driving impossible. For others, mobility disabilities can prevent the ability to drive. Indeed, the high level of danger involved in driving should make people more interested in public transit options to get from place to place. Any degree of driving skill less than master makes the roads less safe for everyone involved, not just the driver. According to a study by the National Library of Medicine, cars are 4 times as likely to have accidents than buses. Serious injuries were twenty-eight times more likely for car users than bus passengers!

In addition to the safety functions, having more buses means fewer vehicles on the road which reduces traffic for everyone. While there are obviously costs involved in expanding a bus network, the benefits far outweigh these costs. Being able to connect to a broader community allows people to live fuller, more engaging lives, not only through access to services but also access to employment. The vast majority of entry-level work positions in the United States require access to regular transportation, which is a major impediment for disabled people finding work.

I personally have struggled to find work thanks to my inability to drive, my inability to access places that would be willing to hire me. While work-from-home (WFH) jobs experienced a surge during the height of the pandemic, workplaces using WFH have begun to decrease in number since then. In addition, WFH jobs almost universally require access to higher education. Entry-level positions for people without a college degree are almost always in person. While many of these positions might be inaccessible for some disabled people, there are plenty (like basic office jobs) that most disabled people can do, but only if they could get to the office.

Larger cities typically already have some public-transit networks in place, but even these networks could become more broadly accessible. The subways of New York City are infamous for their expansiveness but also their corresponding complexity. Simpler or more abstract subway maps could be helpful in increasing navigability for people who struggle to understand the existing map. In addition, almost every subway station in New York City is not wheelchair accessible, blocking wheelchair users from using them safely or at all. While there are some subway stations with elevators, these elevators frequently break down due to lack of maintenance.

Similar problems exist in other cities with subways or elevated rails. In addition, some buses can be very complicated in using their wheelchair accessible functions, to the point that some bus drivers are not educated in their function. Expanding awareness and demonstrating usage of the ramp and lift functions would go a long way in helping to make sure that wheelchair users are more integrated into our pubic transit networks.

Trolley systems can be a functional alternative to subways or elevated rail, and since they don’t require a change in elevation, they are inherently more accessible. That said, trolley lines do take up space on the road, and thus are less traffic efficient than subways or elevated rails. They are relatively rare as well, with buses tending to fill in for the same role. Trolleys, despite their lack of flexibility, are even safer than buses, are quieter, and pull power from the grid rather than requiring fuel, making them significantly more cost effective in the long run. Urban spaces with larger land area could truly benefit from the inclusion of trolleys into their public transit networks.

When I lived in Germany, I made several trips to the Hague in The Netherlands as part of my social studies curriculum. The freedom to be able to catch a trolley from just down the block from our hotel and ride it all the way to the centers of commerce and entertainment and culture in the city, along with my classmates, and to feel like I was truly immersed in the city despite not being able to drive, is a treasured memory that I will never forget. Walking down the boardwalk with the frigid air coming off of the North Sea, salty in the early evening air, and knowing that the hotel was a short trip away in a warm trolley was something only available because of the amazing public transit options in the city.

Let’s work to make more public transit available for everyone.

Mids Meinberg is a writer and game designer working out of New Jersey. They have an AA in Creative Writing from Brookdale Community College.

 

All I Want is an Easier Way to Get New Durable Medical Equipment

Graphic of three presents that have "All I Want" text on them.

Editor’s Note: This blog shows the complex systems disabled people have to navigate just to receive the equipment they need to live. Have you experienced something like this? Share in the comments! 

By Mike Ervin

You could say that 2023 was The Year of Receiving New Durable Medical Equipment (DME) for me. I finally took delivery of a lift (a.k.a. Molift Smart) so that now my assistants can transfer me by basically pushing a button. I also finally took delivery of a commode that can be slid across a detachable rail into my adjacent bathtub, where it becomes a shower chair. Now those same assistants can just slide me from toilet to tub and back, no lifting required.

But you also could say that 2022 was The Year of Jumping Through a Lot of Flaming Hoops in Order to Acquire Durable Medical Equipment for me. About 18 months passed between the day I began the process of acquiring my new DME and the day I took possession of it.

I suppose the process would have gone a lot faster if I had enough money to pay for my DME directly. But I just assumed I didn’t. I don’t even know how much my DME cost. I just assumed that it was grossly overpriced, as DME tends to be, and thus far beyond my range of affordability. I tend not to even think about researching DME or other assistive technology that might make my life better for the same reason I never go shopping on the swanky Magnificent Mile here in Chicago. I figure all I’ll be able to afford to do is window shop. Some people find that to be enjoyable. It motivates them to achieve their aspirations. But I find it to be depressing and frustrating. It’s a cold, harsh reminder of how far I am from where I thought I was.

So, I turned to the Illinois Department of Human Services for help. My counselor (fancy name for social worker) said I had to begin the process by getting an evaluation and referral from a therapist. A physical therapist and an occupational therapist came to my home and took a lot of pictures of my bedroom and bathroom. I already knew what kind of DME I wanted so all the therapists did was put together a multi-page report (complete with pictures) detailing why I needed this type of DME and recommending that DHS purchase it for me.

A Hoyer Lift

The Molift Smart

A few weeks later I contacted my DHS counselor for an update, and she told me that she now had to put the referral out for bidding. That meant that she had to invite several DME dealers to tell the state how much they would charge to supply me with the DME.

A few weeks after that, my counselor informed me that the bidding process had run into a snafu. Only one dealer responded, and she had to have at least three bids to submit to her higher-ups so that they could select a winner. She said she felt as if she was at an impasse. She didn’t know how to proceed. I finally convinced her to submit the single bid to her higher-ups and explain to them that although only one dealer responded, I still needed the DME. But, she said, before she could do that she had to submit a claim to my insurance because, even though we both knew that the DME wasn’t covered by my insurance, she would need an official rejection from the insurance company stating that this type of DME wasn’t covered to submit to her higher-ups. Otherwise, she said, they would probably kick it back to her and instruct her to submit it to my insurance first.

It took a few more weeks for all that to play out. And then, a few weeks after that, my DHS counselor informed me that we’d hit another snafu. She said her higher-ups instructed her to begin the bidding process anew, this time for a cheaper, lower-end lift that my insurance might cover. I told her to please explain to her higher-up that a lower-end lift would not meet my needs. I told her some of the reasons why. She said she would plead my case to her higher-ups, but I would first have to get a note from my doctor explaining that I needed the type of DME I was trying to get the state to buy and why.

My doctor and I have been through this many times. Whenever I’ve gotten a new wheelchair or a wheelchair repair or some other kind of DME, he’s had to supply a note of medical necessity. He finds this to be very amusing because he doesn’t know squat about wheelchairs or wheelchair repair or any of the stuff that I need, but he figures that I must need it or I wouldn’t be asking him to authorize it. So I give him very explicit instructions stating exactly what I need him to authorize and he crafts a note authorizing it. And the next time I see him I explain to him what he authorized.

Well I finally got the state to pay for my DME. And now I’m just praying that it never breaks; I fear that will set me off on another dizzying odyssey, like when my wheelchair breaks. When that happens, I call one of the two behemoth companies that sell and repair wheelchairs that are still in business in these parts. I usually know what’s wrong with my wheelchair. I just don’t have access to the parts that will fix it or the wherewithal to do the repair. So the repair people at the wheelchair company offer me their first available appointment to have a repair guy come to my home and officially diagnose what’s wrong with my chair, which is usually anywhere from two to six weeks up the road. The repair guy comes over and confirms what I already told them was wrong and then the weeks-long process begins of the wheelchair company sending a claim to my insurance company (along with my doctor’s authorization) and my insurance company deciding whether or not they’ll pay for the repair — and then the wheelchair company ordering parts and when the parts finally arrive the wheelchair company arranging another appointment for the repair guy to come back out to my home and fix my wheelchair.

This is why I always hang on to my old wheelchair after I get a new one and keep it in a closet as a backup. I know that when my new chair breaks, it’ll be out of commission for several weeks.

So here’s hoping that 2024 will be The Year of No DME Breakdowns for me.

Mike Ervin is a writer and disability-rights activist living in Chicago. He is a columnist for the Progressive magazine and writes the blog Smart Ass Cripple.

 

All I Want is Equity: Embracing Accessibility Beyond the Holidays

Graphic of three presents that have "All I Want" text on them.

By Andrea Jennings

Inclusivity and accessibility should not solely be a mindset for the holiday season but a mindset and lifestyle that people can carry into their workspaces, family life, and community throughout the year.

The connection between inclusion, accessibility, and the holiday spirit is simple; it is the fusion of holiday cheer and the fundamental values of fostering an inclusive environment.

In my line of work as an accessibility strategist, I encourage embracing each individual’s uniqueness, recognizing that our differences contribute to the rich tapestry of humanity – just as we celebrate diverse traditions during this time,

A black woman wearing a black shirt and pants is sitting on a white chair in front of a tall Christmas Tree decorated with Robin's Egg Blue ornaments and decor.During the holidays, people worldwide do their best to make others feel welcome, practice generosity, and go above and beyond to ensure their guests and loved ones have enough to eat and are comfortable. When planning dinner parties or events, they check in with their friends to see if they have allergies or preferences. Hospitality should be a year-round practice.

Moreover, the understanding exhibited by employers, acknowledging the additional financial strain during this period and offering holiday bonuses, reflects a commitment to the well-being of their employees.

Let’s look at some proactive ways to help bring the holiday season forward.

Wellness and Accessibility in The Workspace:

  • Foster a workplace culture prioritizing employee well-being through wellness days off, adaptive yoga, fitness programs, mental wellness resources, and ergonomic and accessible workspaces.
  • Provide and encourage sensory and focus breaks.
  • Create a sensory room or quiet space where employees can focus, listen to music, read a book, or simply reduce stress.
  • Encourage remote work to provide accessible options.

Create Accessibility and Inclusive Design Job Positions:

  • Hire specialists and individuals with lived expertise! Bringing in accessibility and inclusive design experts demonstrates a commitment to creating products, services, and environments that cater to everyone.
  • Comprehensive Teams: Forming a dedicated accessibility team, including experts in design, compliance, and user experiences, ensures a holistic approach to accessibility.

Accessible Events, Content, Media and Technology:

Promoting accessibility in media, technology, and entertainment during the holiday season is crucial to ensure inclusivity for everyone. Here are some ways to prioritize accessibility in these areas during the holidays and New Year!

Closed Captions and Subtitles:

  • Ensure that television shows, films, and online content include accurate closed captions. It is essential for d/Deaf or hard-of-hearing individuals.

Audio Descriptions:

  • Incorporate audio descriptions for blind or low-vision individuals to provide a detailed narration of visual elements, actions, and expressions during holiday-related programs or events.

Accessible Websites and Apps:

  • If you have a website or app related to holiday events or services, ensure it adheres to web accessibility standards (such as WCAG).
  • Provide alternative text for images and keyboard navigation and ensure compatibility with screen readers.

Virtual Celebrations:

  • Consider hosting virtual celebrations or events that allow people to participate from the comfort of their homes.
  • Ensure the virtual platform is accessible to disabled individuals, providing features like closed captioning and compatibility with assistive technologies.
  • Remember to include brief self-descriptions for an accessible experience for all.

Inclusive Social Media Campaigns:

  • Create holiday-related social media content that is accessible to all. Use descriptive image captions, provide alt text for images, and use hashtags that promote inclusivity.

Accessible Decorations:

  • If you have physical locations decorated for the holidays, make sure the decorations don’t obstruct pathways so there is an accessible path of travel.

Accessible Events:

  • If hosting in-person events, ensure the house or venue and path of travel are barrier-free and accessible for disabled individuals – including parking, ramps, elevators, accessible restrooms, and designated wheelchair-accessible spaces.
  • Send notifications to attendees to contact the host or planner regarding access requirements.
  • Ensure that printed material is available in alternative formats for blind or low-vision individuals.
  • Provide assistive listening devices, real-time captioners, and sign language Interpreters for d/Deaf or hard-of-hearing individuals.

Content Creation:

  • Use Camel-Case for hashtags, don’t overuse emojis, and don’t substitute text with an emoji.
  • Enable Closed Captions and provide CART (real-time captioning) for reliable captions.
  • Provide accessible print media using large print or Braille, numbered and bulleted lists, and agenda or meeting materials in advance when possible.
  • Add alt-text to describe images.

Three white women holding red and white balloons dressed in red, white, and green are sitting on a sofa in front of a brick wall.

 

Accessible Entertainment Spaces: Performances, Live Events & Award Shows

  • Advocate for entertainment spaces such as concert venues, prioritizing accessibility and ensuring venues are accessible.
  • Having dedicated employees to assist individuals with access requirements, as well as having all staff trained in best practices in accessible guest services, is the goal.
  • Relaxed performances and sensory-friendly performances with dimmed lighting.
  • Ensure designated and accessible seating that has an unobstructed view.
  • Provide seating for caregivers or personal care attendants.
  • Hiring on-set accessibility coordinators for productions and studios highlights a commitment to compliance and proactive measures to create accessible workplaces and services in front of the camera and behind the lens.

Accessible Gift Ideas and Holiday Shopping:

  • Explore accessible gift ideas that consider diverse preferences. People appreciate these kinds of thoughtful gestures.
  • Online gift certificates for various businesses include books, media, clothing, food, healthcare, and wellness goods.
  • Consider purchasing music subscriptions and gifts with accessible, innovative technology such as hand-held motion-controlled music mixers, fitness trackers, headphones, adaptive remotes, or gaming tools.
  • Consider adaptive makeup and hair-care tools for individuals experiencing fatigue and chronic pain.
  • An excellent website for adaptive gifts year-round is FFlora.
  • Support businesses prioritizing accessibility and choosing products and services catering to diverse customers.
  • Train all employees on assisting customers with access requirements.

 A Black woman wearing a black and white polka-dotted dress stands beside a decorated Christmas tree.As we revel in the joyous moments of the holidays, my call to action encourages us to carry this spirit of inclusivity into the rest of the year. Doing so enhances the festive season and contributes to a world where respect, understanding, and empathy become year-round traditions.

May the warmth and kindness experienced during these holidays remind us that creating an accessible, inclusive, and psychologically safe environment is a gift we can give one another daily.

Andrea Jennings, M.Mus., is a Disability & Accessibility Strategist, actress, and filmmaker passionate about music, law, and entertainment. Her journey led to creating Shifting Creative Paradigms – Leveling The Playing Field® Multi-Media Production Co., advocating for social justice through Disability culture, film, music, and art. Her work has graced prestigious platforms like Park Avenue Armory, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Rutgers University. Her work is also recognized in Forbes, Billboard Magazine, The Atlantic Magazine, The Hollywood Reporter, and The New York Times.