Updated: Oct 14, 2021
Spaces and platforms aren’t often designed with disabled people in mind, especially within the LGBTQ+ community. Our team decided to come up with some simple suggestions, based on their own personal experiences of disability, to help those running organisations create spaces that allow their disabled community to thrive.
Often, disabled access is treated as an afterthought. According to the office for National Statistics, just under half of disabled people in the UK are unemployed, and 3 out of 4 disabled people have left a public space, shop or business due to accessibility concerns.
So what can we do to change that? How do we improve accessibility and let our queer disabled leaders flourish? We Create Space approached some of our disabled leaders within the queer community to get their personal thoughts on the topic. Here are some starting points for what you can do to help welcome more disabled people into your spaces.
Keep asking questions.
Not all disabled people are the same, and needs change from person to person. So what’s the best way to make your spaces more accessible? Ask! Go to members of your community and ask what would help make their lives easier. Think about what you can offer - in your professional space, is there an option to work from home? Do images in your social media posts have text descriptions? Tiny changes can make a great difference. “I think improvement in accessibility for disabled people can always be worked on. The range of experiences of disabled people is so large, whether the disability is physical, mental, or hidden; there’s no simple answer. We’re constantly changing and evolving.” - Coco (they/she)
“To improve accessibility for deaf people, I’d first start by asking us what our needs are. Don’t assume that all deaf people are the same. Most importantly, just try! Never tell us “never mind, it doesn’t matter” and please don’t treat us like we’re fragile. Maybe write things down on your notes app/some paper, learn the basics of British Sign Language or simply point to things - as long as you try.” - Luke Christian (he/him)
“Educating every person you meet on your medical history is less helpful than if they were to ask what they can do to make situations more accessible. All it takes are a few reasonable adjustments, and it is entirely possible for me to excel.” - Stewart O’ Callaghan (they/them)
“Being disabled is exhausting. We have to adapt to a world that is not designed for us and often does not accommodate our needs. Believe disabled people when they say they are tired and provide adequate support.” - River Solace (they/them)
“I battled for years to get previous employers to accept my request to work from home, and every time I asked for reasonable adjustments, I always felt like my requests were treated with suspicion... We need to honour the experience of LGBTQ+ disabled people, and cut through the constant gaslighting we face every day of our lives.” - Louie Stafford (he/they)
Give disabled voices the floor.
Don’t just ask what you can do for your disabled community - give them the platform to speak for themselves. Proactively prioritise the experience for disabled people by making sure they’re in the room for all of your decisions. Not only can elevating the voices, stories and perspectives of disabled leaders help you address accessibility in your community, but it also helps to break down misconceptions that wider society has about the disabled community.
“I desire to serve as a possibility model for other queer disabled people to realize what is possible when one embraces every aspect of one’s identity.” - Mark Travis Rivera (he/him)
“Seeing someone who looks like you succeed is powerful. Growing up under Section 28, we suffered a serious lack of public role models. Now, things are different - more queer disabled people can lift their own voices, and I think that brings us out of the “pity-lens” and into empowerment.” - Stewart O Callaghan (he/they)
“As an ally, think about who is sat at the table. Disabled people can offer a unique perspective and deserve a place at the table to have their stories heard. Be aware that not all disabilities are visible. Always remember to pass the mic.” - River Solace (they/them)
“Looking around, I see more and more people like me, taking up space and being open and honest about what they experience and what they need to thrive in this world, which inspires me to keep going and keep fighting for what I need!” - Louie Stafford (he/they)
Encourage and help establish support systems.
Try to help encourage relationships within your community. According to the Office for National Statistics, disabled people are almost four times more likely to report feelings of loneliness than non-disabled people. Set up safe, online spaces for your community to get to know each other. Setting up a group chat or regular wellbeing check-ins may not seem like much, but to those who struggle to get out and socialise it can make a huge difference.
“As a disabled person, I find my strength through my support system - to have people around that understand my disabilities and allow me to flourish, without judgement. Power is something from within - it helps me take all the pain of myself and of people like me, and use it to prove to society that people with disabilities can be just as amazing and special as a ‘normal, able’ human.” - Coco (they/she)
“When I was diagnosed with incurable cancer, I tried to attend the usual support they offered but it was overwhelmingly cisheteronormative and I couldn’t connect. I didn’t feel like I fit into the cancer community, so I turned to my LGBTIQ+ community. I had always given my energy to the cause through marches, press pieces and the like, but when it came time to receive that love back, I was totally unprepared for how powerful and life changing it would be.” - Stewart O Callaghan (they/them)
“I have met many wonderful queer and autistic people online during lockdown who have helped me to understand myself better and given me a space to exist without judgement. I had no idea there was a whole community out there of people like myself.” - River Solace (they/them)
“I used to love going out and clubbing and meeting strangers in smoking areas, but as I get older, I increasingly find the most solace in spaces where I can form genuine, sober connections with other trans and disabled people. It's through the conversations in those spaces that I learn the most about myself.” - Louie Stafford (he/they)
Rethink "normal" and accept the unique.
What isn’t a barrier to you can often be a barrier for someone else. Consider what you know as normal from a different perspective, and be open to suggestions of how your organisation can change the “normal” to create a more inclusive atmosphere for disabled people. Put the work in to make sure everyone has the tools they need to thrive.
“Be prepared and be there to support us. I know there’s nothing more warming than someone who wants to get to know my disability. Be extra supportive and understanding, even with the things you don’t understand, try to - we’re not as complex as society makes out, we just were made with different tweaks and I think that’s the beauty of it.” - Coco (they/she)
“What annoys me is when people make an excuse for not being accessible. "We don't have the funding" or "we didn't think about that in time". There's a lot of miscommunication and lack of understanding of what accessibility means, but also misunderstanding about the fact that accessibility is not one size fits all.” - Max Marchewicz (they/them)
“When you are not affected by a barrier in society, it is easy to be oblivious to it. That is why it is so important to engage with the communities around you and to have humility in what you hear. Engage with us to find out what works for us. We are just people trying to live a full life, like everyone else.” - Stewart O Callaghan (they/them)
“Having a disability is not something that stops us from having fun and being social. We may move or communicate differently, but what actually excludes us is lack of understanding and lack of accessibility.” - River Solace (they/them)
“It is important to send a message to non-disabled people that difference makes us human and shouldn't be feared. The sooner we free ourselves from the pressures and boundaries we place on each other across society, the safer this world will be for everyone.” - Louie Stafford (he/they)
Mark is an award winning choreographer, dancer, life coach and writer. He recently wrote this article on belonging as a disabled person. Mark is also the creator of the “Marking the Path” podcast and a published poet.
Max Marchewicz (they/them) Max is a queer disabled activist and the creator of CrippleQueers, an instagram dedicated to boosting the visibility of queer disabled people. They are also a accessibility consultant and British Sign Language interpreter.
Coco is a non-binary, LGBTQ+ mental health activist and writer. Talk to Coco has created a safe space for people all around the world to openly share their experiences, feelings and struggles. She prides herself on giving support, advice and mentoring with zero judgment, just pure love and transparency. Coco also volunteers for @ukblackpride, supporting Community Engagement.
Luke Christian a deaf, gay entrepeneur and is the CEO of Deaf Identity, a fashion brand dedicated to breaking down barriers and stigmas surrounding the deaf community through fashion. He also writes regularly on his own lifestyle and fashion blog.
Stewart O’Callaghan is the founder and director of Live Through This, an organisation dedicated to supporting LGBT+ people affected by cancer. They are proud to work with multiple LGBT+ organisations and NHS hospitals in coordinating their efforts to improve inclusion in cancer care for all.
River Solace (they/them) River is a autistic nonbinary songwriter and poet currently based in London. They use their music and artistic process to express not only their queer identity, but their own struggles with mental health and self image. They’re also the creative director of “The Soft Approach” zine.
Louie is the managing director of Learnest, a trans-led Community Interest Company ran by and for LGBTQ+ people exploring the world of work and employment. They are a non-binary educator that lives with ADHD and Dyslexia, and use their experiences to help improve inclusivity in the workplace for queer people in the UK.