If you’d like to learn more about the Access Justice Framework, it’s importance for the growth of cross-movement solidarity, and how I apply it, read on.
Table of Contents
1. Access is not only for disabled people because disabled people have access needs other than those related to disability
2. What inspired access justice
3. Applying access justice
4. Access Justice Framework’s process
5. About the tools I use
6. Why work with me and the Access Justice Framework?
Access is not only for disabled people because disabled people have access needs other than those related to disability
Access and accessibility are generally considered related only to the experience of disability. This consideration is both historical and understandable.
1 in 5 people in the world experiences an impairment or disability, and that number is on the rise due to our aging population, the spread of long COVID, the devastation of the climate emergency, and other factors. Yet, radical movements and their projects frequently do not include disabled people and our needs, either because we are forgotten or because our needs are deemed too difficult to meet.
But access goes beyond the needs of people with impairments and disabilities because different forms of inaccessibility are experienced at varying moments by everyone, particularly those with historically underrepresented identities and experiences. One might consider this an issue of diversity, equity, and inclusion, but this neoliberal initiative tends to forget that there can be none of these things if people cannot access them.
Access needs, or what is needed for people to access the world, mostly seem daunting because most people don’t know anything about what it takes to make a place, an event, a website, a gathering, etc., accessible. In relation to the experience of access for disability, many disabled people themselves are not knowledgeable about accessibility, or are only knowledgeable about accessibility for people who have access needs similar to their own.
While I am disabled and therefore experience the world’s inaccessibility in ways that are unique to people with my disabilities, that is not my only experience of accessibility; I have been studying access since 2016 and have been providing accessibility services (teaching, coaching, site “audits”) since 2019. However, I’ve participated in various forms of activism and education off and on (as my health has permitted) since 1999. It’s through this participation that I’ve come to realize how many people, but particularly disabled people, are underrepresented in most spaces, and as such have firsthand experience in how unwelcoming these spaces often are to many people but particularly disabled people. In 2020, I started to work on ways for improvement that go beyond DEI and beyond what many people consider to be accessibility (eg, accessibility only being for disabled people). I call my integrative approach the Access Justice Framework.
To quote Audre Lorde, “There is no thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” This is why I have taken my approach to access and accessibility to include issues, identities, and intersectionalities beyond disability: because disabled people are more than just disabled; we do not “live single-issue lives.”
What inspired access justice
Incorporated into Access Justice is what disability and transformative justice activist Mia Mingus calls “Liberatory Access.” As Mingus wrote in Access Intimacy, Interdependence, and Disability Justice ↗:
We talk about the importance of making our movements and communities accessible and yes, that is important. We have to make our work and spaces more accessible. There is no way around it. Access is concrete resistance to the immense isolation that disabled people face everyday. But I don’t want us to just make things “accessible,” I want us to build a political container in which that access can take place in and be grounded in. Access for the sake of access is not necessarily libratory [sic], but access for the sake of connection, justice, community, love and liberation is. We can use access as a tool to transform the broader conditions we live in, to transform the conditions that created that inaccessibility in the first place. Access can be a tool to challenge ableism, ablebodied supremacy, independence and exclusion. I believe we can do access in liberatory ways that aren’t just about inclusion, diversity and equality; but are rather, in service of justice, liberation and interdependence.
I have been calling this concept “Liberatory Access.” Liberatory access gets us closer to the world we want and ache for, rather than simply reinforcing the status quo. It lives in the now and the future. There is no liberatory access without access intimacy, and in fact, access intimacy is one of the main criteria for liberatory access. Liberatory access understands addressing inaccessibility and ableism as an opportunity for building deeper relationships with each other, realigning our selves [sic] with our values and what matters most to us, and challenging oppression.
Liberatory access calls upon us to create different values for accessibility than we have historically had. It demands that the responsibility for access shifts from being an individual responsibility to a collective responsibility. That access shifts from being silencing to freeing; from being isolating to connecting; from hidden and invisible to visible; from burdensome to valuable; from a resentful obligation to an opportunity; from shameful to powerful; from ridged [sic] to creative. It’s the “good” kind of access, the moments when we are pleasantly surprised and feel seen. It is a way of doing access that transforms both our “today” and our “tomorrow.” In this way, Liberatory access both resists against the world we don’t want and actively builds the world we do want.
Liberatory access requires a political container to live in and orient from and I believe that disability justice ↗ is that political container.Mia Mingus. “Access Intimacy, Interdependence, and Disability Justice.” 2017. https://leavingevidence.wordpress.com/2017/04/12/access-intimacy-interdependence-and-disability-justice/
Disability justice refers to the 10 Principles of Disability Justice ↗, which were created by the Black, brown, queer, and trans members of the performing arts group Sins Invalid, all of whose members are disabled.
Within the 10 Principles of Disability Justice is Principle #4, “Commitment to Cross-Movement Organizing.” This principle declares that by “Shifting how social justice movements understand disability and contextualize ableism, disability justice lends itself to politics of alliance.”
Principle #9 is “Collective Access;” which says that “As brown, [b]lack and queer-bodied disabled people we bring flexibility and creative nuance that go beyond able-bodied/minded normativity, to be in community with each other.”
Applying access justice
One of the many ways that we show up in our commitments to Liberatory Access and Disability Justice is through a comprehensive accessibility audit that is used to create an accessibility guide for improvement and an accessibility statement that documents your current access for the public.
An accessibility statement demonstrates a commitment to cross-movement organizing and collective access that is inclusive of disabled people, people with impairments who do not identify as disabled, and many others
Usually, if access needs are considered at all, people are told to contact the venue to learn about the venue’s accessibility and how the person’s needs might be met. This requires people to do the work of discovering if a place might be accessible for them. If venues wish to be accountable to disabled and other historically underrepresented visitors, creating (and continually updating as needed) a public accessibility statement is a great way to start a restorative relationship with people in the greater community.
A basic accessibility statement by a queer bookstore in Salt Lake City, Under The Umbrella, can be found at https://www.undertheumbrellabookstore.com/accessibility ↗ for reference.
When I create an accessibility statement for a venue, event, or website, or collaborate with others on building their own accessibility statements, I do so using the Access Justice Framework. The AJF is built off the original free accessibility auditing tool ↗ by the now defunct Radical Access Mapping Project ↗ (RAMP) to examine over 700 points of access, which is 150+ more points of access RAMP’s auditing tool included.
In “On Really Getting What An Audit Is About ↗,” RAMP noted that an accessibility audit is more than “simply a collection of boxes to tick off […] which people and groups can simply use to ‘prove’ they are ‘accessible.’” In the same post, RAMP wrote that an accessibility audit, from which accessibility statements are often created, is just one of many tools used by individuals and groups to “begin (or continue) to look at the many ways their space/ event/ organizing group/ etc can shift its priorities, its philosophies, its understandings, […] to create and re-create not only a more welcoming space for multiply disabled folks, but to change, shift, demolish notions of worth, of solidarity, of resistance, of community altogether.”
By combining Liberatory Access, Disability Justice, and the needs of access for all who have been historically underrepresented, the Access Justice Framework focuses on building collective access, solidarity, resistance, and community by considering the needs of everyone involved in cross-movement organizing.
Access Justice Framework’s process
There are several ways to go about enacting access justice. The below is my recommended approach.
- Consider, who are you trying to reach, and what are their access needs? It helps to ask them directly, but you won’t get a full range of answers. Some people will not take the time to answer, some will feel nervous about being fully honest. And sometimes, you want your reach to grow, in which case you must consider the needs of people who are not yet present.
- Establish a contact person on your team who is knowledgeable about access (this might mean adding a knowledgeable person to your team) and publicly provide their (non-personal) contact information, preferably with multiple forms of communication for connecting, for people to reach out with questions about access.
- Undertake an access audit. This can include everything related to your project/work – website, social media presence, physical venue, printed or digital material you offer, etc. – or you can narrow your focus to improve access for just one room in your venue, only your YouTube channel, one important document, or whatever you want.
- Use the results of the access audit to create an accessibility statement which will be offered publicly in accessible formats (website, signs, fliers) to whomever you are trying to reach.
- Work on improving your access in the access-vulnerable points found by the access audit.
- Provide your community with updates as your access is upgraded.
A great accessibility statement includes:
- An introduction about access and your values. This would include:
- Why you or your group has created an accessibility statement.
- What access means to you or your group and to those whom you are trying to reach.
- What values related to access you or your group hold.
- The current status of access for whatever your work may be, including as much detail as possible.
- Describe what access has been established.
- Describe what access is in process.
- Future goals and plans for additional access, preferably with a timeline.
- An established contact person who is knowledgeable about your project’s access and their non-personal contact information, preferably with multiple forms of connecting (phone, email, text), for people to communicate with about access.
About the tools I use
While my auditing tool for venues had over 700 points of access in the summer of 2021, the tool is not complete. I continue to add points of access as I learn more about people and their many access needs.
I use similar tools for websites, social media, videos, and apps, as well as other contexts such as teaching and facilitating, conferences, live streaming, and more.
The tools will never be “complete” because the world and its inhabitants continue to change, thus causing the need for changes in access.
Why apply the access justice framework?
Why work with me and the Access Justice Framework?
People do not live single issue lives; therefore, access is not an issue unique to people with disabilities. The Access Justice Framework reflects this need to approach access and accessibility from an approach that is more liberatory in nature.
As mentioned above, I have been studying access since 2016 and have been providing accessibility services (teaching, coaching, site “audits”) since 2019.
If you want, you can learn more about me here, or browse my CV for more details. I also have a smattering of testimonials (not something I’ve focused much on, admittedly!) available and references on request.
If you’d like to learn more about how I apply the Access Justice Framework and explore the possibility of collaborating on improving access and accessibility within your work, I encourage you to set up a time to chat with me ↗ (we can use video, audio, or chat), as email is largely inaccessible for me. If all three chat methods are inaccessible for you, you can try emailing me, but responses may be heavily delayed.
Thank you for your interest in the Access Justice Framework!
Access Justice Framework Table of Contents
What are the The 10 Principles of the Access Justice Framework?
- Access is for everyone.
- Providing access is not about tokenization or virtue signaling; it is about equity.
- Access needs to be the default, not an add on. It is a right, not a privilege. It is not a special need.
- Access friction is real and is not a reason to avoid providing access, nor to discriminate.
- Access is about more than accommodating and assisting: it is about adapting the world to fit everyone.
- Barriers to access come from systemic oppression such as ableism, not from disability.
- Access is about inclusion of us – Nothing About Us Without Us – in leadership, governing, and decision-making.
- Time, money, energy, and safety are all access issues.
- Access, when equitable, is a form of justice.
- As the world changes, so do access needs. Access adapts.
Learn more via Access is for Everyone with the Access Justice Framework.
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