Tips for bringing intersectionality into queer, feminist, and disability spaces

paper cut outs of people holding hands, of various ages, disabilities, skin color
Tips for Accessibility

When you care a lot about a certain issue, it can often be hard to look beyond that issue. This is not always a bad thing – passion and focus are common drivers of most social movements – yet it can also be extremely beneficial to look beyond the particular issue you are focusing on. Often times, societal problems experienced by one marginalized group are often felt by other marginalized groups. For example, the LGBTQ community and the community of people with disabilities have both struggled and fought to attain the right to marry. Acknowledging those shared experiences and the overlapping nature of societal categories – such as race, sexuality, class, disability, and gender – and impacts felt as a result of society’s treatment of these classifications can strengthen different movements and help overcome perceived divides, in addition to building connections between different marginalized groups.

Sometimes this can be hard, especially when different organizations are competing for recognition or funding, but in general a little intersectionality hardly ever hurts. The fact is, humans are complex, and individuals may belong to multiple different groups or social movements – and it is important that that is recognized and accommodated. For example, ardent feminists can also be men and women with disabilities, or men and women of color, or people who are transgender.

Which brings me to an article I wanted to share with our readers. SheWired, a queer women’s online magazine, released a piece I was excited to see, called 5 Ways to Make LGBT and Feminist Spaces More Disability Accessible. The article outlines five main strategies for structuring LGBTQ and feminist events and meetings to be more welcoming, and accessible, for people with disabilities.

First is to “survey your community to find out what they need.” This is a great rule to follow – ask your community what will help them the most, and then do your best to assist them in achieving that.

The second suggestion is to “talk to local colleges that have ASL programs.” Especially if you’re hosting an event or meeting, working with nearby colleges and local organizations to provide accessibility services can be very meaningful to attendees, and students may be willing to volunteer or work flexible hours. Hiring an interpreter, making sure your videos have captions, and making sure the location has an elevator or the meeting takes place on the first floor.

The third idea is to “think beyond ramps.” For many, ramps and accessible bathrooms are often the first thing that come to mind when brainstorming how to make an event or meeting accessible – however, the devil is in the details and there are many other areas that are just as important. The article mentions organizing rides for potential attendees for whom public transit or cabs aren’t accessible, and giving a heads up about the general layout of the building doesn’t hurt.

Fourth is “have greeters and guides.” This piece mentions that having greeters who can give clear and understandable directions if the building is hard to navigate or doesn’t have Braille signs. This can also be a great help to people with social anxiety and other mental illnesses.

The fifth suggestion is to “have a chill out room.” This is suggested for “those who are autistic, have sensory processing disorder or anxiety, etc.” and I think it is a great idea! As the article states, “Having a quiet space to get away from big, noisy crowds can make an event so much more enjoyable, and can allow people who may otherwise leave to stay longer after taking a break.”

An additional tip that I am aware of is making locations scent-free zones, and asking attendees not to wear fragrances in order to accommodate people with allergies or scent sensitivities.

These tips can also be great for people within the community with disabilities working to accommodate peers with different disabilities. In addition, remember that accommodating fellow marginalized social groups also works in the reverse – events for people with disabilities can be extra welcoming for people from the LGBTQ community by using gender-neutral language, offering gender-neutral bathrooms, and not assuming heteronormativity.

Emily Pate is a third-year student at Seattle University interested in Strategic Communications, learning Spanish, and working with non-profits. Her work for Rooted In Rights is focused on discussing current events in the community of people with disabilities. Her experience previous to Rooted In Rights includes writing broadcasts for KBOO radio in Portland, OR, and managing a neighborhood blog in the Seattle community. In addition to work, Emily enjoys drawing, spending time with her friends and family, and backpacking.