Making your activism accessible
Purpose: This page was created to support activists in making their spaces more accessible, that is, to ensure everyone's needs to access movement spaces are met so more people can contribute to the climate movement in whatever way they can!
- Equip grassroots groups with strategies to meet the access needs of participants, make their messaging accessible to all folks, and increase engagement and involvement in their activism and organizing spaces.
- Learn from the lived experiences of people with access needs.
- (Bonus) Discuss new ideas to add to the roundup of practices currently listed in the guide
Why did we make this? Several of the topics found in this guide are based on questions asked by activists in the HUB's community (i.e. how to make in-person events more accessible, how to make promotional materials more engaging etc.).
Where does the knowledge come from? The information included comes from existing organizer databases and resources by movement thinkers. We've included knowledge from; blogs written by people living with accessibility needs, resources provided by staff at the People's Hub and an instagram live with Priya Penner from the Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies. However, note that each personal experience is distinct, thus we encourage further insight from different positionalities to share further ideas on how this page can be expanded upon and improved.
This guide includes: definitions of accessibility, understanding why disability justice is climate justice, considerations for accessible event, action planning, communication and content sharing, considerations for creating an accessible culture and other suggestions related to creating a space that is accessible to everyone who wants to contribute to the movement for climate justice.
"Universal accessibility is the character of a product, process, service, information or environment which, with a view to fairness and an inclusive approach, allows anyone to carry out activities independently and to obtain equivalent results." - Groupe DÉFI Accessibilité (GDA)  & Ex Aequo
Ex Aequo distinguish accessibility from adaptation: "Adaptation would consist of changes made in order to accommodate people in relation to “an environment, a communication, a program, or an already existing service. We adapt when we build a subway with only stairs, then add elevators several years later. We make it universally accessible when we provide access ramps to the buses."
Why is Accessibility Critical to Movement Spaces?
Access Culture expands on definitions of accessibility, explaining:
"For people who live on the margins, who have to fight to prove their existence, who are excluded from movements, who are subject to abuse in the form of isolation, having access to spaces means having access to community, to connection, to existence. When we make spaces accessible, when we build movements based on inclusion, we recognize that each person has an intrinsic value, that our existence is beautiful and necessary. Creating accessible spaces is about recognizing that connection is necessary, that community is necessary, that our culture is built on the myth of separation, the lie of disconnection. We must move from independence to interdependence in order to transform society."
Accessibility matters for the following reasons:
|1. Collective liberation: we all win when we oppose ableism
|2. Not actively unlearning and practicing = replicating oppression
|3. Prioritizing and leadership of marginalized people
|4. Meeting everyone’s needs = more people power
5. Organizers burn out when opposing ableism isn't prioritized
As described by Aerik Woodams at People's Hub, individual access is often framed as extra work; that there are 'more important things to address'. Disabled and otherwise marginalized people ask us to do things differently. This might feel like work at first, but these efforts benefit all of us by giving us more strength, understanding and tools to build a better world.
A note on what 'counts' as activism
There can be a tendency in movement spaces to debate what the 'best' way to take action is. Many disabled people (and also non-disabled people) must factor in things such as energy levels, physical ability, transportation, scheduling requirements (e.g. medication, appointments etc) when thinking about how they'll participate in activism. There are many things we can do to support these needs at our events and action as outlined in this guide. And, we should recognize, value and encourage the diversity of ways one can meaningfully contribute to grassroots movements. And, that our movements are not successful without them!
For example, some disabled people may find the most accessible ways to contribute to movements are via phone banking actions, social media amplification, research, contributing to online media (e.g. magazines, news outlets), mutual aid work etc. Some disabled activists might steer clear of events that bring out masses of people, or are physically demanding. And, first and foremost, taking care of one's disabled body is radical activism. As described by Audre Lorde, caring for bodies that do not fit the ‘favoured’ white, male, cisgender, able-bodied ‘ideal’ set by western, capitalist, individualist norms, is political. 
[Paraphrased] To do physical activism, you need a lot of people to support you in the background to ensure you're successful. I started with a grassroots organization, trying to figure out where my place was in this movement. Within that journey I was part of different subcommittees. I was part of the media committee, and these people are so important, but quickly realized to be successful in this role you need to take a step back and see what's happening, call the media and put in the hard work of calling 20, 50 etc outlets. I realized the importance of that, and did not enjoy that part nearly as much. I feel most comfortable being directly in the action. -Priya Penner, Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies as part of our disability justice is climate justice live.
Understanding Why Disability Justice is Climate Justice
|1. Natural disasters disproportionately harm disabled people
2. Disabled people are marginalized and are equally deserving of liberation
3. Systems of oppression are intersectional and best addressed by leadership of the most impacted
4. Environmental racism and natural disasters cause disabilities
5. Eco-ableism reinforces oppression
6. There can be no climate justice without addressing immediate survival needs
|7. 'Survival of the fittest' is an oppressive mindset
Advice from Priya Penner at the Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies on how to prioritize disability justice in your movement spaces: [Paraphrased] Reach out to the most impacted folks. Let them lead; listen and take a step back. For folks that want to work in coalition with disability justice activists, let them lead, listen to what they need and work with them, not for them. You need to recognize who is missing from your table, your spaces, as climate justice activists. Disability justice activists have so much to teach folks, just as climate justice activists do. It's a mutual relationship. Prioritize access. Meeting access needs often requires a lot of money. But, if you do have money, ask what you're prioritizing. Are interpreters more important, or markers and posters? We will show up if we know we are wanted. Are you opening that door?
See the following video by Climate Atlas of Canada for a quick overview of how disability justice intersects with climate justice:
Holding Accessible Events and Meetings
Disability and able-bodies exist on a spectrum. Most of us have experience with ableism and the pressures of capitalism, and/or experience being excluded by other systems of oppression that limit our access. We invite you to reflect on how making a space accessible goes beyond ensuring people can physically access a space, but also that they can show up as fully as others in the room. If helpful, we suggest checking out our wiki on incorporating space watchers and holders for further considerations.
- Pause frequently during events and meetings to ask if anyone has any access needs that need to be addressed!
- UK Mutual Aid has an example of an accessibility checklist that you can use as a blueprint to creating a checklist for your team.
- Consider creating an access guide that can be distributed for your meetings/events. Once you have a template down, you can swap out specific details as needed! *See the example below of an access guide made for a HUB event!
Doors must be 800mm minimum.
|Food and water
|Ways to participate
|Timing and barriers to participation
|Allergies and sensitivities
|Neurodivergent and/or introverted inclusion
Neurodivergent: describes how developmental disorders are normal variations in the brain.  The neurodiverse umbrella  includes but is not limited to ADHD, dyslexia, autism, and other learning disabilities. Many people also include mental illnesses under the umbrella of neurodiversity, such as anxiety, bipolar, PTSD, schizophrenia etc.
Meeting neurodivergent and introverted needs:
|BIPOC inclusion 
|Gender identity inclusion 
|Low-income inclusion 
Example access guide
Pandemic Safety Measures
If you do not have safety measures in place during a pandemic, higher-risk individuals in particular are unlikely to attend your event. It also sends the message that people at high-risk of becoming very ill are disposable. Safety measures prevent people from becoming seriously ill, long-term disability and death.
Thomas A. Russo, professor of Infectious disease at the University of Buffalo, suggests that safety measures to put in place when planning an in-person event include:
- Advertising that attendees wear masks for the duration of the event, even for events held outdoors. Have extra masks available for those who come without one, ideally N95 or KN95’s which are one of the best available options to protect against COVID-19.
- Have a few volunteers who can provide hand sanitizer every so often, and especially before distributing food if this is included in your event.
- State that those who are feeling ill, have come in contact with someone who has tested positive OR have come in contact with someone who has tested negative but is showing symptoms of illness, should not attend.
- Encourage attendees to keep their distance from one another as often as possible.
The People’s CDC has further recommendations for planning safe gatherings during a pandemic:
- Provide universal pre and post event testing.
- Stay in small, consistent groups.
- Perform contact tracing.
- Ensure the meeting space has adequate ventilation and air quality (open windows/doors, ensure HVAC systems are functional, use HEPA filters if possible).
- Perform high filtration universal masking. Provide certified N95/KN94 masks if possible.
- Provide a place for folks to eat outside.
- Reduce high-risk activities 5 days prior to the event (i.e. unmasked, indoor activities outside of the household)
- Gather outdoors when possible. The risk of catching an airborne virus from an outdoor gathering is lower than from an indoor one. There is still a risk of contracting a virus, especially at crowded protests or gatherings.
Suggestions for Virtual Events 
Invite and include disabled people and their needs
Live descriptions, captions and good audio are key for live streamed events.
Share the format of the event and how long it plans to run
Provide any written or visual materials ahead of time.
Allow attendees to send questions and comments in advance.
|Build time for reflection/breaks into your event, as well as time for questions.
|Offer channels to provide feedback about the event
Suggestions for Hybrid and Virtual Meetings
Virtual and hybrid virtual/in person meetings require stable internet connections, access to hardware (i.e. cell phones and computers) and some technology literacy.
If you’re working with participants who don’t have access to the internet or hardware, these tips may be hard to implement. However, there are other tools and techniques you can use such as conference call services, message groups, photos of call lists, etc. that can be used. The following are tips for holding hybrid (in-person and virtual) meetings, and general meeting tips.
Blueprints for Change offers an extensive guide filled with tips on hosting effective hybrid meetings. The following compiles some of the tips found in their hosting virtual/hybrid meetings guide, and from the write up developed by Training for Change.
Considerations for Planning a Hybrid Meeting
Things you'll need to do this successfully
Those who join a meeting using their phone do not have the same functions available as those using a desktop. Consider sending important links ahead of the meeting, or in your workspace during, so people on the phone can access them.
|Prepare ahead of time
Roles you might consider when hosting hybrid meetings
-Bridge facilitator; to bridge the digital and IRL spaces and who can support the IRL facilitator to make sure the digital folks are supported. This person could also be assigned to keep track of participants who have asked for a speaking turn so that both in person and digital voices are included.
-Visuals, Slides & Notes lead
-Tech lead; to manage your session slides, doing things like screen sharing, watching the chat box, setting up and doing sound checks at the beginning of your session, and troubleshooting if problems come up along the way.
-Vibes & Energizers lead
-Stack keeper (monitor order of speakers, chat and Q&A functions)
-Buddies for virtual participants (for hybrid meetings)
Plan for shifts in power dynamics, because some people are in groups vs others are on their own.
-People connecting in groups may have an easier time connecting with others in the same room.
-People connecting on their own may have an easier time connecting with others who also connected on their own.
-Those who connected the same way as the facilitator may have an easier time communicating with the facilitator.
-When you use the chat box, those on their own device have easier access to participate.
-When people are in a room together, those controlling the screen, who are on camera and/or closer to the microphone are advantaged.
Preparing Participants Before the Meeting
|Provide and seek information
Information to provide/seek to prepare participants include:
Offer a training on how to use the platform
Holding the Hybrid/Virtual Meetings
Start with introductions and a check-in.
Let folks introduce themselves, their pronouns and make time for relationship building by letting people share how they are doing or something about them.
Try to take notes and video recordings for those who can't attend.
Provide a person or place where attendees can seek support
It might be relevant to share participation guidelines and/or the group's mission statement to ground the group before beginning.
Examples of participation guidelines, inspired by Aspiration Tech  , might include...
|Get participants to engage with one another!
|Use a circle up tool to keep participation equal
|1. Put all participants around one big virtual circle.
2. Mark a little check next to someone whenever they speak. You can also use a star or other symbol to track when each person shares during a specific activity. Have one person assigned to do this, and to let the facilitator know who deserves speaking time. See the example from Training for Change
|Be mindful of participants who may not be able to see or hear or otherwise fully participate in virtual meetings.
|*If an attendee is blind, you should use more descriptive language that paints a picture of what others are seeing and provides richer context.
Creating Accessible Group Cultures
The following section drew from the writings of:
- Liz Kessler, a person who describes themselves as disabled and who is involved in struggles for justice 
- Lee, a disabled, queer, trans and autistic activist. 
Suggestions for fostering accessible group cultures:
|Work with different abilities and limits
Incorporate regular discussions about personal and group boundaries
Plan break times
|Focus on content, rather than how something is said
|Uplift intersectional perspectives
|Avoid and challenge ableist language
Finally, accept that building accessible group cultures is a process. There is no set finish line. We have to stay tuned and pay attention to the people around us.
Accessibility in Media and Materials
There are many things to consider when it comes to accessible communication. It is important to ensure our written material is easy to read, easy to understand, and make it easy to find the information you need and use the first time you read it.
Order, bolding and font
|Avoid jargon, abbreviations and technical terms
Use as few words as possible
Break up the text
Use gender-neutral language
|Use accessible colour choices
Writing Image Descriptions 
Most important elements to describe:
Basic process for writing a description:
Accessible Audio and Video 
- An audio description is a form of narration to support blind and low vision users.
- If audio descriptions are not available, written descriptions can be used. They are typically presented as written text that can be reviewed along with the video.See this example presenting the trailer for The Wheel of Time.
- An option for making videos with audio descriptions to create two versions of your video, one with an audio description integrated with the rest of your video’s audio and one without. Below is an example of an audio description.
- People's hub offers trainings on creating culture of access, and also a peer support space for people with chronic illness/disability to meet online.
- Sins invalid offers numerous resources in various forms.
Disability Justice Network of Ontario: DJNO has an abolitionist Prison Project that’s working to highlight the experiences of people who’re disabled, racialized and are currently/have been incarcerated.
- Centre for Independent Living in Toronto (CILT): CILT partnered with No More Silence to offer zoom meetings with Indigenous community members who experience challenges & barriers when attempting to access cultural and ceremonial spaces to develop guidelines to increase the accessibility of these spaces.
- Barrier Free Saskatchewan-"Non-partisan coalition from the provincial community of individuals and organizations of and for persons with disabilities, Saskatchewan citizens, organizations, and companies"
- The Disability Collective-Fully disability-led performing arts organization in Toronto
- Tangled Art & Disability-Supports "Disabled, d/Deaf, chronically ill, neurodiverse, k/crip, Mad, sick & spoonie artists; to cultivate Disability Arts in Canadaz'
- Disability Justice is Climate Justice (Sins Invalid)-Article and ASL video
Disability Rights is a Climate Justice Issue. Here’s Why (Leanne McNulty)-Article
To Survive Climate Catastrophe, Look to Queer & Disabled Folks (YES! Magazine)-Article
- The Rights of People with Disabilities in Disasters & Public Health Emergencies (World Institute of Disability)- List of resources
- 10 Principles of Disability Justice (Sins Invalid)-Article
- Access after COVID-19: How disability culture can transform life and work (The Monitor)-Article
- The history of disability rights and justice in Canada (DJNO)
- The right to be rescued by Rooted in Rights-Tells the stories of people with disabilities affected by Hurricane Katrina. Includes a discussion guide and emergency preparedness resources.
- Sins Invalid offers 3 podcast episodes on the intersections of climate and disability.
If you have any suggested revisions or additional resources to share related to the above content, please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Groupe DEFI Accessibilite (GDA) - Research report for associations in Montreal - Universal Accessibility and contributing designs (version 5.3), Langevin, Rocque, Chalghoumi & Ghorayeb, University of Montreal