Saturday, November 28, 2015

Accessibility issues and Lao event programming

Recently the SFF Convention Accessibility pledge has been circulating around asking convention organizers to create events that accessible to those with disabilities. Io9 has a good introductory briefing on the topic, and there are some excellent comments being made, overall. They're citing the Wiscon accessibility policy as the gold standard. I've personally signed the pledge, and do encourage others to consider doing so.

That leads me to thoughts of what we can do to take back these ideas to the Lao community as we plan events, becaue it's not only a courtesy, it is the law.

Given how many community members we have, particularly elders, veterans, and others with disabilities, some visible, others less so, it's important for us to consider how we're organizing events. Not all disabilities are permanent. For example, are you prepared if your guest of honor has been in car accident and has to use a wheel chair for the time being? We need to set a good example for our youth to have an inclusive mindset.

We should ask what we're doing to go above and beyond in terms of providing accomodations to improve our paticipatory experiences for everyone.

Are you leaving enough space in the aisles for those with wheelchairs or crutches? If you use a stage, is there a ramp or option for someone with mobility issues?

Are their options for large-print programs for those with limited vision, or at least a poster with large type somewhere with the schedule so people can identify where they want to go?

Are sign language interpreters available? For those who are hard of hearing are good microphones and clear sound systems in place for the speakers, and for the audiene if you have a question and answer segment?

If you have events that aren't on the first floor, are there good elevators or lifts in the building? Are your events held on major public tranport lines, and is there an easy space for loading and unloading passengers? For outdoor events, are there good paths for wheelchairs, or ground that's not too muddy?

There are many other questions to be asked, but that's an example of the considerate thinking we need to be advocating during our event planning.

At the very least, do you know who to contact in the event that an accessibility issue comes up?

I spent many years in Minnesota planning events, from the Five Senses Show to the National Lao American Writers Summit and the Legacies of War: Refugee Nation Twin Cities exhibition, among others. I learned a lot from those experiences on the importance of addressing accessibility, but as always, there's more we can learn.

Creating accessibility is always a constantly evolving process. New technology, new issues, and more importantly, new opportunities for inclusion are always emerging. That should excite organizers of science fiction conventions, and that should excite Lao event organizers who pride themselves on hospitality, inclusion, and diverity.

I see the creation of accessible spaces as fully within our traditional values, and it's a mindset we need to pass on to the next generation. As a community, we need to see it as a benchmark of failure if we can't be bothered to consider how to include those with disabilities in our events.

One thing that's been helpful to me over the years was the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council's Arts Accessibility Planning Guide.  It's well worth a look not only for Minnesota events but events anywhere. The National Endowment for the Arts also has a good resource guide, but everyone should take the time to get more informed and understand what constitutes good implementation of the ADA act.

For Lao American refugees, there aren't many existing resources in our own words, in our own language at the moment. This is a conversation which hasn't really been held to identify if there are any accessibility issues unique to our community beyond language barriers. Nationally and locally, we haven't done much community asset mapping to determine what forms of accessibility we need to prioritize. Hopefully in the years ahead, we'll see significant community leadership emerge committed to inclusion and addressing these issues.

No comments: