So, is your moot disability-friendly?
And no, I’m not talking about wheelchair access. Well, that’s a part of it, but there’s so much more. And no, we can’t always get it right, especially with limited choices of venue. But that shouldn’t stop us from trying. In a lot of ways, it’s often not so much about actual arrangements as about having an attitude of concern and inclusiveness.
Firstly, are there physical barriers to people attending? People with disabilities have, obviously, very differing needs and conditions, so there’s no “one size fits all”. There are people in wheelchairs who can do slopes but not steps, and people with balance difficulties who can do steps but not slopes. Is there Blue Badge parking nearby (this includes not only designated bays but also permission to park on double yellow lines so long as this does not cause an obstruction)? Are the chairs adequately comfortable for someone who might have difficulty sitting upright for too long? Are the lighting and acoustics good? If the answer to any of these questions is no, is there anything that can be done to help? And is all this information – or at least the most important bits – available online somewhere?
Then there may be emotional or cognitive barriers, which are often the more difficult ones to spot. If a new person has social phobias or anxieties, would they feel encouraged to ask for support such as meeting someone from the moot one-to-one first, before coming along to the moot itself? If they have particular needs, is there a space where they can ask for what they need? Is the moot tolerant of differences such as autism or learning disability? Are there assumptions that everyone is literate? If someone is too shy to speak out in a moot, could there be a go-round at the end specifically for people who haven’t spoken to have their say? Or use a talking stick? And not everyone likes to be hugged: many people, for reasons ranging from neurodiversity to a past history of child sexual abuse really don’t like to be touched – how would you make space for it to be ok for them to say so?
Disability, of whatever kind, has a tendency to restrict people’s ability to work, and therefore to be financially resilient. Many disabled people either can’t drive or can’t afford to run a car. Is your venue on a bus route, and if so, does the moot finish before the last bus runs? Would it help if someone offered them a lift home? If you’re in a pub, is there an expectation that everyone buys their own drink?
Part of the problem, it seems to me, is that humans, by design, think in categories. There’s normal and there’s not-normal. When someone is a wheelchair user, it’s fairly obvious what their restrictions might include. But when disabilities are invisible, the onus gets put on the person themself to explain their needs, which is easier done in an atmosphere of welcomingness, of inclusiveness, of sensitivity to difference and in individual needs.
I’m aware that this piece is really only a quick skim through these issues. If you can think of helpful suggestions that I’ve missed, please add them in the comments below, and I’ll see if I can collate them for a future piece.
District Disabilities Liaison for Devon, Cornwall and Isles.