This video (which is captioned and narrated) can be found here on Youtube. Thank you to Occupy on Wheels for providing this transcript.
Stair Awareness. What is it? Do you have it? And why is this knowledge an essential tool, for any activist and/or organizer. Occupy On Wheels presents Activism & Accessibility : Raising Awareness & Educating Movements.
Greetings and Solidarity! What is Occupy On Wheels? Occupy On Wheels is a facebook page, that is dedicated to providing activists and/or organizers, with the information on how to make their events wheelchair accessible. We have videos that break down what makes an entrance wheelchair accessible (or not), as well as alternative ideas to camping out. Occupy On Wheels was created in response to and inspired by the Occupy Movement.
As an activist, I wanted to participate on a dedicated level. However, as an activist in a motorized wheelchair, “camping out” was simply not an option. [Occupy Movement Spectrum of Participation graphic. On the left it shows “Donating food, clothes” and “occupy your xmas”. On the far right “camping out” but there is nothing in between] I wanted to do more then just donate food and clothing or occupy my Christmas, but there just doesn’t seem to be anything inbetween that and camping out.
So at this point, you may be asking yourself : Well, why is “camping out” not an option for a person in a motorized wheelchair?
Accessible Theater Presents… Betty, The Wheelchair in… Camping out.
In order to understand why camping out is not wheelchair accessible, it helps to understand the nature of a motorized wheelchair, so let’s break it down. This is my motorized wheelchair Betty. She is awesome and as without her, I would not be able to leave my apartment, let alone attend protests.
#1. However, as a motorized wheelchair she is not waterproof. While a chair can handle SOME rain, you’re really not supposed to and it’s a great way to screw up your chair if you’re not careful.
#2. it’s also designed to be stored indoors. Failure to do so, will result in screwing up your chair.
#3. the battery. It needs to be charged rather frequently. In order to do that, you need to plug it into a wall. Unfortunately, walls are not commonly found in nature and local parks.
#4. security. It would be rather easy to steal the chair. Unless the person stays in their chair 24/7, which is not very conducive for sleeping, the theif would have to just flick on the on and off switch and ride away. And because the owner of the chair, requires the chair to get around, chasing after said wheelchair theif is not happening. One could lock up the chair to a pole, as one would a bicycle, but that’s assuming there is a pole within reaching distance of the spot where the person is camping out.
#5. which brings us to our last issue, and that being space. As a person in a motorized wheelchair, I would require a spot where I could fit not only myself but my chair, and still be able to come and go as needed, without running over my fellow activist and their things in the process. This is something I generally try to avoid.
And for those reasons, that is why camping out is not a wheelchair accessible option.
So, in my quest to find alternative accessible ways to participate in the occupy movement, I went to the Occupy Wall Street Website Forum where I asked the question… “How can The Occupy Movement be more inclusive to activists in wheelchairs? And is there a way to make “camping out” accessible, and if not what are some alternatives?” Unfortunately, this was one of the actual responses… “Are you fucking kidding me? This is a revolution… What next a massage table?” (bite me)
Which brings up the question: Is the lack of wheelchair accessibility within the movement a result of Intentional Ignorance or Lack of Awareness (and which is more dominant)?
I like to think that when events are not wheelchair accessible, it is (more then not) a lack of awareness rather then intentional exclusion. And given the opportunity, activists and organizers (more then not) would be willing / open to be educated on how to be more inclusive, to their fellows activists in wheelchairs.
I also believe that the lack of awareness, is also a result of one’s life perspective. If stairs have never prevented you from entering a building, then you wouldn’t view them as an obstacle. This is the result of a person’s Life Perspective. When I started the OOW page on facebook, an activist who was visually impaired, brought to my attention that my page was not accessible to her community. The text articles were fine. It was the graphics. In order for a text reader to “read” a graphic, there needs to a caption, that not only gives a physical description of what the graphic looks like, but also whatever copy/text is on the graphic, should also be made available in the caption in plain text.
So here we have an example of what I was just mentioning. We have a graphic here. The one on the left has no caption, the one on the right does. If you close your eyes for a second, you are not able to see the graphic, therefore basically you would have a text reader, that relies on having plain text available, then you’re able to “read” or hear the caption rather and see what the graphic looks like and what the graphic is saying. And that is the difference between an accessible and an inaccessible graphic.
When creating the facebook page, I never thought to myself “Let’s exclude those with visual impairments.” It’s just that because I am not visually impaired myself , I don’t have that daily experience and life perspective, so as a result it wouldn’t occur to me to make a facebook page, accessible to a text reader. It wasn’t a matter of Intentional Ignorance, but rather A Lack of Awareness. That’s why I feel that not only is there a difference between the two, but when it is a matter of Lack of Awareness, it can change. With education, a person’s awareness can be raised, and that knowledge can be used to make things more inclusive and accessible. After all, if you are not aware that something is inaccessible, then you won’t know that there is a problem. And if you don’t know how to make something accessible, even if you are aware, you still lack the information needed do things differently. However, with awareness & education, a person becomes empowered, and then can create change.
Don’t get me wrong, this is not to say that Intentional Ignorance does not exist. But I really feel that if more activists/organizers who are willing to learn, when they speak up for wheelchair accessibility and inclusiveness, and put those words into action, it will be harder to remain Intentionally Ignorant, because Wheelchair Accessibility, will become more of a norm.
Here we have a picture of Mayor Bloomberg of NYC. And here is just one of Mayor Bloomberg’s many reasons as to why wheelchair accessible taxi’s are not a good idea. And I quote : “[the passenger would] sit too far from the driver to establish a dialogue [and thus] would not tip well.” Here is an example of Intentional Ignorance. He knows there’s a problem, he knows he’s being ignorant, and is doing so on purpose, but remains so for his own profit and greed.
I believe it’s very important to raise the awareness of activists and organizers. Historically, when change has occured, it has typically been the result of activism and the people. I believe that if this country, this world is going to free itself from the crap and corruption, it will be the activists of the world, the everyday people who will bring that on.
So having said that, let’s break down what makes a building entrance wheelchair accessible? Take a look at this photo, and see if you can spot the reason why a person in a motorized wheelchair, would not be able to get into this bakery. Pop Quiz. Okay, so here we have a local bakery. See if you can spot what would make this bakery inaccessible a person in a motorized wheelchair. If you’re not sure, here is a big fat hint. Yes, it is the big front step that would block a person in a wheelchair from entering the bakery. So, if you’re still not sure why the big step would it inaccessible, let’s go to the animation that breaks it down. So as you can see the wheelchair can only bump into the step. It can not go up it. In order to go up, it would need the ability to go up, which defy’s the laws of physics. Unless one rents a helicopter which is very expensive.
Here are some more examples and tips on how to raise your awareness. This is clearly not accessible. But neither is this apartment entrance. If a meeting were to take place here, an activist in a wheelchair would not be able to attend. If every day, you take a couple minutes to stop and look at different entrances to stores, restaurants and homes, you will train your mind to spot wheelchair inaccessibility till eventually it will become second nature. You will also begin to notice just how many entrances are not wheelchair accessible and can get an idea, of how it would hypothetically impact your daily life, if you were in a wheelchair.
I mentioned before how a step does not have to be a big one, to be inaccessible. Here are some other tips. In this instance, the entrance does have a step, but it’s so minor, that it makes the entrance doable, but ideally, the entrances are flat and/or have a ramp like entrance. It is important to note that accessible entrances are not just for buildings. In order for a park to be wheelchair accessible, It must have at least one entrance that looks like this (a ramp). Just as it not possible for a wheelchair to go up a step, it is typically not possible for a wheelchair go up a curb, whether it be on the street (or in a park).
Another thing to look out for is nature. The average motorized wheelchair was designed to pretty much stay on smooth artificial surfaces. For an example, similiar to a car, my wheelchair gets stuck in the mud. Another issue is when the doorway (or hallway) is too narrow. There has been many times, where I was not able to get into a building because my wheelchair would not fit through the doorway. The last thing to be on the lookout for are ramps that are too steep. There was one time where I went to an activist related conference, and the building had A ramp, but the ramp was so steep, that when I first tried to use it, my chair actually drove INTO it. I had to get a person to push my chair from behind. So, that basically is an example of how not all ramps created equally.
Pop Quiz! Is This Wheelchair Accessible? The entrance is, but because it leads to a flight of stairs, it is not. There is a possibility that there is a room on the ground floor to the right, that we just can’t see in this photo. And if that was the room that was used for an event, then it’s fine. However, if the event were to take place in a room that would require people to go up a flight of stairs (and there was no elevator) then no, this is not wheelchair accessible.
So, now that you know a bit more about wheelchair accessibility, let’s talk about how this directly applies to the occupy movement. Having watched this video, you now know how even one step, can prevent an activist from attending and/or participating at an event. Here are some questions to ask yourself when organizing.
#1: Is the Event Location Wheelchair Accessible?
# 2: Is this information clearly stated on your event invite? By including this information on your invite, it saves people in wheelchairs from having to ask. It shows people that wheelchair accessibility is something that you are aware of, and makes your event instantaneously more inclusive. And it would be really nice to not have to ask.
#3: Are you meeting for lunch? Is that location wheelchair accessible? Making your event as wheelchair accessible as humanly possible is incredibly important to the movement. Here’s a quick story that explains why.
I once went to an activism related conference, and they mentioned after the first lecture, that if people were interested in joining the organization, there was a sort of ‘meet and greet’ at a couple of restaurants for lunch. I asked the organizers, are these restaurants wheelchair accessible? The organizers just looked at each other, and it was evident that they not only didn’t know, but it was just something that hadn’t even crossed their minds. Don’t get me wrong, they were really nice people, and they really sincerely apologized. But in that moment, I went from feeling really excited about the organization and the lectures, to feeling like “what am I doing here?”
It also made me think “there is alot of work to be done with raising awareness regarding wheelchair accessibility”. But I also know of a number of people who just leave, and become either apathetic, or they just focus on disability related issues, because they don’t feel like they are apart of the occupy movement (due to the lack of inclusiveness), even though they are part of the 99%. And it’s a shame because it’s the loss of an activist in the movement, and it’s a division that doesn’t have to exist.
#4: Do you offer people accessible alternatives to “camping out?” Offering alternative ideas is not just for people in wheelchairs. It’s also good for parents of young children, people who work nights, or people who would really like to get more involved in the occupy movement, but just don’t want to and/or are not able to sleep outside. It also fills in the gap, between donating food and camping out.
One alternative idea is the flyer campaign. The Flyer Campaign (or canvassing) is inspired by The Verizon Worker Strike of recent times. They didn’t just protest in one or two major areas. They were handing out flyers at every single Verizon Wireless Store in NYC. Even areas where you don’t typically see any signs of activism or protest. I saw this guy on Kings Highway in Brooklyn, where you NEVER see protests. It was pretty cool. This idea could be applied to The Occupy Movement.
1.) Offers people an alternative (and accessible) way to really get involved (beyond the level of donating).
2.) great (and cheap) way to get the word out about the movement that does not rely on mainstream media nor the internet.
3.) a way to invite people on a very personal level to get involved, which may encourage people who want to go, but feel confused or shy about the occupy movement.
4.) Creates the opportunity for local conversations that perhaps otherwise would not occur (particularly in areas where you don’t see activism.)
5.) Lastly, this is something you could do a couple hours a day, or couple hours a week. It’s very flexible to people’s schedules.
Daytime Occupy. A Daytime Occupy is not only an accessible alternative option to “camping out” but is also great for occupy locations who have recently been evicted by the gov’t/police. Simply put. Get a sign. Show up at the park and spend as much as time as you can, as frequently as you can. Remember, even you can’t set up tents, it is still perfectly legal to show up during the day. Because of the simplicity, many mini daytime occupy events could be organized, in a variety of locations. This is good for those who can’t travel too far, but can make it to their local park. This is also a great way to show people, that yes we may have been evicted from this park, but this is far from over. When people see activists still in the park with their signs (even if it temporarily during the day time), it sends a very clear message.
#5 Is your General Assembly meetings being held at an accessible location? This is particularly important, because otherwise, people in wheelchairs are then excluded from the organizing process.
Can’t find a wheelchair accessible location for the General Assembly Meeting? Try the local library. They sometimes have rooms you can rent for free. Set up a suggestion box at the occupy location. With some brainstorming and creativity, there are always alternatives.
(Details for these ideas and more can be found on the O.O.W. facebook page in the Note section.)
This what Occupy On Wheels is all about. Giving you the information and alternative ideas, so you can make your local occupy, wheelchair accessible with ease and confidence, while showing solidarity to your fellow activists who happen to require a wheelchair.
After all, Solidarity is not just a word, it’s an action!
CREDITS. “Activism & Accessibility: Raising Awareness & Educating Movements.” An Occupy On Wheels Film. Find us on Facebook : Occupy On Wheels! All comments, questions and feedback are welcomed and appreciated. Music by The Velvetland Band. Thank you to all the very awesome occupy locations who have “liked” our page, and given us much solidarity and positive feedback.