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Friendly Access for Inclusion

Gale Toko-Ross, Rosemary Blanchard
On Cooperation (September 2022)
Annual Sessions
Friendly Access for Inclusion: Excerpts from an interest group conducted at Intermountain Yearly Meeting; June 16, 2022; Fort Lewis College, Durango, Colorado

The following text was transcribed from a recording of an interest group at Intermountain Yearly Meeting (IMYM), where Gale Toko-Ross was a co-Presiding Clerk and Rosemary Blanchard was the meeting’s ombudsperson for accessibility concerns.

Rosemary Blanchard: The concern about inclusion that we will consider today – among all the aspects of inclusion that are important to Friends – race, gender, etc. – is this: How do we make sure we don’t lose sight of the environmental and physical adaptations that a loving community would offer to people who are having a harder time getting around physically, or a harder time hearing, or a harder time seeing?

So, who are the people who are sometimes excluded? Persons with disabilities, Blacks, Indigenous, people of color, various socio-economic classes, LGBTQIA+, age cohorts, experiential cohorts. This leads me to some important questions: Will we dilute the real work of inclusion by overgeneralizing? Or will we dilute it by overparticularizing? If we say, “Well, we’re going to be inclusive of everyone,” will we end up slipping into the problem of talking about “All lives matter” and avoid talking about Black Lives Matter? It’s a very delicate balance. This is work of the heart as much as it is work of practicality.

Now, I’m going to introduce the concept of universal design, which is a process of creating built environments, communities, products, technology, and other things to minimize physical and attitudinal barriers, which limit full involvement of people with disabilities in their communities – or people with any other differences. The idea of universal design is that you don’t make an accommodation; you have an accommodating environment from the beginning.

Universal design incorporates basic principles of equitable use, flexibility, simple and intuitive features, information communicated effectively, minimization of hazards, and low physical effort.

I’ll give a very physical example. When you have a rollator (which is a kind of walker) or if you’re in a wheelchair, when you don’t have enough turn-around space, it can happen that you might have an accessible door, but you can’t get to it or through it. Right out there in the lobby – I don’t know about the men’s rooms because I haven’t been checking them out – but there are accessible stalls inside the women’s rooms – IF you can get through that two-ton door and then the second two-ton door. You could even get stuck in between the two doors. But if you can ever get through the two doors, by God, there is an accessible stall in that restroom! So, we took care of that, didn’t we?

These are the kinds of things that we need to consider when we’re thinking inclusively. Sometimes I find what helps is to have somebody who has the particular concern go with me when I’m setting things up in the first place. I’m not good at figuring out what other people’s limitations are. But they can tell me.

And as we settle more into our Fort Lewis site, I think it would be wonderful to work with the staff about signage. But in the meantime, one of the things we can do ourselves in preparing to use the site in the future is to figure out the best ways to use signage to help enhance its accessibility. We’re not going to make structural changes, but where two paths diverge in the woods, as Robert Frost said, and one of them leads to an accessible entrance and one doesn’t, we can put up a sign saying which of those paths leads to the accessible entrance. So, I think we can do some more planning and work in setting ourselves up here. And please, anything you encounter here this year that makes you think, “That’s a barrier, if not to me, at least to somebody,” please make note of it and tell us, because we are going to try to make this better.

Gale Toko-Ross: And I just want to note that anybody can get an ADA map at the registration table, which shows the routes on campus that have no stairs. We are trying to do what we can to make information about accessibility more available.

Rosemary: So, when I started looking at things for this workshop, I discovered a framework called the Seven Pillars of Inclusion. I had been taking very much to heart the concerns Gail has been raising, that physical inclusion by itself isn’t enough. And I think she has been taking in my concerns, that if we don’t particularize to a certain degree, if we just say, “Oh, we’re inclusive,” then it’s like saying, “Oh, we’re anti-racist” without getting into the details of what that actually means in terms of what we do. So, I’m hoping that we can use these Seven Pillars as a model for analysis that incorporates a whole range of perspectives.

Gale: This is an organic process. We’re expecting audience participation to fill in the gaps. We want to form a small discussion group for each of the Seven Pillars of Inclusion – Access, Attitude, Choice, Partnerships, Communication, Policy, and Opportunities.

One of the most important things at this point is to make sure we listen to our community, make sure that we are considering all the issues that need to be addressed, and also considering which things maybe are not as important. We need to listen to each other. We need to make sure that we’re talking with each other and that we know what’s important to ourselves and to other people.

Rosemary: Okay, so here are the ways that Peter Downs describes the Seven Pillars of Inclusion:

“Access” explores the importance of a welcoming environment and the habits that create it.

“Attitude” looks at how willing people are to embrace inclusion and diversity and to take meaningful action.

“Choice” is all about finding out what options people want, and how they want to get involved.

“Partnerships” looks at how individual and organizational relationships are formed and how effective they are. How are we engaging with, rather than engaging for?

“Communication” examines ways we let people know about options to get involved and about the culture.

“Policy” looks at how an organization commits to and takes responsibility for inclusion, remembering always that policy requires concrete actions.

“Opportunities” explores which options are available for people from various backgrounds.

Now, I’d like to ask if we could have a bit of a working project for the rest of this interest group. We would like you to have some discussion about how one of these elements affects you and the people you know and love. Make some notes so that you can come back and share your ideas with the rest of us.

Let’s heed John Woolman’s words, “Conduct is more convincing than language.” Let’s think of practical ways that we can make these Seven Pillars of Inclusion into practical realities in our community.

Gale Toko-Ross is a member of Boulder Friends Meeting. Rosemary Blanchard is a member of Albuquerque Friends Meeting.

The presentation slides and complete notes from this interest group are published online at: https://westernfriend.org/media/friendly-access-inclusion-resources

physical accessibility inclusivity

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