3 December 2015

South Africa: Accessible Spaces Are Vital for Change

opinion

This year the International Day of Persons with Disabilities - theme is Inclusion matters: access and empowerment for people of all abilities. Annually International Day of Persons with Disabilities is commemorated today; and it is an important time for reflection on the actions taken to change spaces to become more accessible.

Traditionally in awareness campaigns, the focus is on the experiences of people who have a visible disability.

People who are neuro-divergent are excluded from the conversations. This only serves to reinforce the stigma which people who aren't neuro-typical face when they speak about their experiences with bipolar, schizophrenia, etc.

This stigma is complicated when triggered by trauma, such as intimate partner violence. The creation of supportive spaces for survivors form a crucial component of addressing the effects of violence.

During Sixteen Days of Activism, it is particularly important to remember to centre the experiences of survivors of abuse who may be excluded from support spaces.

Some ways to do so include: Marketing support spaces in ways which are accessible to blind people by ensuring that text in advertisements is screen-reader accessible and adding detailed descriptions of each image used. It is necessary to engage with NGOs that support Deaf people in order to find South African Sign Language (SASL) interpreters.

Furthermore, it is necessary to ensure that all venues used are wheelchair accessible. The media advertisers can supply trigger warnings in advance for any video content which may upset people - i.e. warn about graphic rape, violence, etc. Film and TV can also activate subtitle captions for video content as well as ensuring that every initiative marketed as being accessible by inviting potential participants to engage organisers on any accessibility needs they may have.

Bringing the experiences of people with disabilities to the fore is not an easy task, and cannot be implemented without ongoing consultation with disabled people. There is no 'one-size-fits-all' recipe for inclusivity. Rather, the role lies with people who are not disabled in owning their respective abled privileges and ensuring that they do not dominate spaces or speak for disabled people. Abled people have multiple kinds of privilege, such as:

- Being able to go to a movie theatre, and not needing subtitles to follow the film

- Being able to read text without relying on screen reader software and image descriptions, or Braille

- Having representation in media. Abled people can find diverse depictions of themselves in all forms of media.

- Not being hailed as 'inspiration porn' - whereby everyday living is hailed as an inspiration for others

Hosting an internationally recognised initiative which centres the experiences of people with disabilities is a crucial step forward. It is through such awareness programmes which are inclusive that cycles of abuse will be broken across different spaces.

Learn more about International Day of Persons with Disabilities

- This article is written by Mx Tish White - Project Coordinator - Wits University Transformation and Employment Equity Office Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Advocacy Programmes as part of a special series for Sixteen Days of Activism being produced by Gender Links News Service

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