Monday, February 29, 2016

Quaker Spaces and Accessibility: Part 2 of 2

Part 1 is available here:

Thinking beyond ramps, elevators, and hearing loops: some common access tools for people with “hidden” disabilities

This is a practical exploration of some common access tools and accommodations for people with “hidden” disabilities.  This list is not exhaustive, and it should also not be used an excuse not to talk with people about their access needs; it should be used as a starting place for thought, worship, and conversation.  I strongly recommend reading part 1 first


·      Is there public transportation to the Meeting?  To the locations of committee meetings?  Is the public transit schedule such that someone can actually use it to get to and from Meeting events?  How far a walk are the most usable public transit stops? 

·      Is information about parking and public transit clearly available on the website and in printed materials?  Is parking available nearby?  How far a walk is it?

·      Does the Meeting subsidize transportation costs for people with disabilities (and other people in the Meeting) who may need it? 


·      Is the Meeting community in touch with the kinds of lighting that do and don’t work for Friends with disabilities?  Are different forms of lighting available? 

·      Lighting needs to be bright enough for most people to see but without producing too much glare.  If your meeting space has windows, it’s often tempting to turn out the lights and rely on natural light alone.  For some people, that light will not be enough for them to see sufficiently; for others, the contrast and glare can trigger neurological symptoms.  Check first. 

·      Presentations: Rather than automatically turning out the lights during presentations to highlight the projector screen, ask what kind of lighting works best for the people present.  Being in a mostly-dark room with some bright light can trigger neurological symptoms for some people.  Keeping all the lights on can make it difficult for people with low vision or other vision difficulties to see the screen.  Having the lights on away from the screen, and off near the screen, works well for many people.  As always, checking with the people in the room is the best way to make sure their needs are met.  Ensure the people with the loudest voices are not the only people whose needs are respected.

·      Fluorescent lighting is a known trigger for a host of issues, including but not limited to seizures, migraines, headaches, and skin problems.  Some people tolerate fluorescent lighting better than others.  If people in your Meeting have difficulties, arrange for alternative lighting, such as halogen lamps, incandescent lamps, or LEDs.  If you are using fluorescent bulbs in regular fixtures, this can be as simple as changing the bulbs to another type.  If your building has overhead tube lighting, alternatives can be as simple as bringing in table or floor lamps, and not using the fluorescent overhead lighting.   


·      Are bathrooms well-signed?  Can someone unfamiliar with the building find the bathroom quickly if they leave the Meeting room, social hall, or Business Meeting in a hurry? 

·      Are Friends easily able to leave the room to use the bathroom, take medication, or eat a snack, and easily able to return?  Are they discouraged from leaving or re-entering?  If you have doorkeepers, how do they handle this?  Do Friends frown when people get up, leave, and come back during worship, business meetings, or committee meetings?  What are the unspoken – or spoken – conventions around leaving and coming back? 

·      Does your Meeting have one or more all-gender bathrooms, and space where people can change clothes, which are ADA-compliant?  Do transgender and genderqueer people with disabilities have safe, accessible bathrooms and changing space?[1] 

·      A number of disabilities and disabling conditions require people to use the toilet frequently.  It can be very helpful to have bathrooms close to Meeting rooms, though this is not always something under our control. 


·      Is the Meeting community familiar with the different kinds of seating Friends need?  Are different kinds of seating available during worship, social time, Meeting for Worship with Attention to Business, and committee meetings? 

·      For some people, benches might be fine.  Some people need soft seating.  Some can’t use soft chairs and need a hard chair with back support.  Some people with asthma and other pulmonary problems can’t use upholstered furniture.  Having different kinds of seating available in worship but not Business Meeting, for example, communicates that Friends with disabilities are welcome in worship but not business.  Having different kinds of seating available in worship, social, and business spaces communicates that Friends with different needs are welcome in the full life of the Meeting and makes the Meeting more accessible to more Friends. 

Heating and cooling

·      Are the worship, social, and business spaces warm enough – and cool enough?  Spaces that are cold are often not accessible to people with chronic pain, arthritis, asthma and other pulmonary conditions, and neurological, orthopedic, and other disabilities.  Similarly, spaces that are too warm are also barriers to access.  To non-disabled Friends, a meeting space that is too cool or too warm is an inconvenience; to many disabled Friends, a meeting space that is too cool or too warm is inaccessible and means we can’t participate, or that if we do participate we will face consequences such as increased pain and disability. 

Timing and scheduling

·      Are the schedules for worship, business, and social events available in advance?  Does the community adhere to those schedules, especially with respect to break times and meals? 

·      People with various disabilities may need to use the bathroom more often, may need to eat at regular intervals, may need to time medication to food, may not be able to sit for extended periods, and more.  Asking, “Is it all right if we go on?” puts PWDs on the spot and forces us to ask for our access needs to be respected.  Adhering to schedules helps us plan and makes events more accessible to more people.[2]

·      Do the times for Meeting for Worship, Meeting for Worship with Attention to Business, and committee meetings work for people with disabilities?  Has the X Committee in your Meeting always met on the first Thursday night of the month, and always will? 

·      It may be traditional to hold Meeting for Worship on First Day morning, but having worship even once a month in the afternoon or evening might make it possible for people to come who otherwise can’t.  Scheduling Meeting for Worship with Attention to Business is always an extremely interesting process, and it’s all too easy for the voices of people with disabilities to get lost, for our presence to become less of a priority than that of other Friends.  If X committee always meets at night, Friends for whom night-time committee meetings aren’t possible may never even consider serving on X committee, and may never be asked, even if the Meeting very much needs their gifts there. 

·      How are late-comers welcomed? 

·      People with disabilities cannot always know how long it will take us to get ready or to get someplace, and those of us who rely on other people or on public transit to get to Meeting are not always in control of what time we arrive.  Shaming late-comers, treating lateness as a problem, and making late-comers sit in a separate area communicates that people with disabilities are not welcome, that it would be better if we hadn’t come at all than had come but arrived late. 


·      Does your Meeting have a sound system?  Do people use it? 

·      A good sound system is an essential accessibility tool for many Meetings.  It’s very easy, and very tempting, to believe a meeting space is small enough, or people’s voices are loud enough, that everyone can hear.  Shouting does not, in fact, make it possible for everyone to hear; for many of us, it makes it harder.  Accessibility for Friends who are hard of hearing is not simply about volume; it’s about a whole host of factors.  Hearing loops do not serve all Friends and newcomers who are hard of hearing. 

·      It’s also very easy to assume that using microphones in Meeting for Worship will be disruptive, unwieldy, or too difficult.  There are a number of Meetings and other Quaker groups whose experience with the use of microphones during Meeting for Worship and Meeting for Worship with Attention to Business has been extremely positive, including Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns (FLGBTQC).[3] 


·      Is the soap in the bathrooms fragrance-free?  Is the space cleaned with fragrance-free products? 

·      Is it a Meeting policy to ask Friends and visitors to forego using fragranced personal care products, including perfume, cologne, aftershave, hair styling products, and lotions when coming to Meeting events, and not to use them on the premises? 

·      Is that policy clearly stated on the website, in signs on-site, and in printed and emailed announcements?  Are there periodic written and verbal announcements to remind Friends? 

·      How do Friends, and especially elders in the community and/or the equivalent(s) of Ministry and Counsel, intervene when people do wear or use fragranced products? 

·      Most commercially-available window cleaners contain chemicals which often trigger headaches, breathing difficulties, and neurological problems.  Many eco-friendly window cleaning products which contain ingredients such as vinegar and vegetable-based soaps are much less hazardous to people with disabling conditions.  These are also easy and inexpensive to make; ingredients and recipes are readily available on-line and in books. 

·      Please note that while many products marketed as eco-friendly are fragrance-free, not all of them are; many contain essential oils to make products smell “nice.”  The fragrances in essential oils can still trigger problems.  Look for explicitly fragrance-free products (not necessarily “unscented”).  It’s essential to read ingredients lists.

·      It’s important that keeping a space as fragrance-free as possible is everyone’s responsibility, not just that of people with disabilities or Friends with chemical sensitivities.  It’s ableist and unfair for expect a particular subset of Friends to carry the burden of removing an obstacle to their participation in the life of the Meeting, and in fact it creates another obstacle in and of itself.

·      Please do not, ever, ask someone with fragrance or chemical sensitivities to smell something and tell you whether it’s all right.  Doing so is asking them to risk being made very ill, not being able to get home safely, and being disabled for days.  Read labels. 

·      A number of Quaker and non-Quaker organizations and individuals keep lists of fragrance-free personal care and cleaning products on-line, including Friends General Conference[4] and this author.[5] 


·      When providing food or at potlucks, does the Meeting make provision for a wide range of food needs, rather than what is perceived as the lowest common denominator?  For potlucks, are Friends encouraged to bring a variety of foods? 

·      When life-threatening allergies exist, does the Meeting insist Friends not bring foods containing those specific allergens?

·      Is food labeling part of the Meeting’s culture and expectations?  Are there supplies available so people who have not made labels at home can do so on-site?  Do Friends commonly help make labels for people for whom writing is difficult or painful, or who can’t see?

·      Does everyone understand it’s critical not to mix serving utensils without a thorough washing? 

·      Do Friends respect each others’ food needs? 

·      Avoid commenting on and questioning food preferences and restrictions. Don’t ask someone why they can’t eat something, don’t tell them that someone else you know who has the same disability or medical condition can eat the thing they’re not eating, don’t tell them their inability to eat something is a fad, don’t tell them the food they’re not eating won’t really hurt them.  That’s ableist and disrespectful.  Most of all, don’t try to convince people to eat things they say they can’t eat, and do not deliberately serve them food or drink containing something they have said they can’t eat.  That’s dangerous. 

Managing dust and mold

·      Are your worship, social, and business spaces cleaned regularly, with fragrance-free products?  Are the cushions vacuumed?  Are moisture and mold managed? 

·      Dust and mold are problems for people with allergies, neurological and pulmonary conditions, and more.  There are a number of lovely Meeting houses that are inaccessible to people with disabilities and chronic illnesses because of mold and dust problems. 


·      Are name tags available, and do people wear them consistently? 

·      Is it a Meeting practice to share names verbally at the rise of Meeting, or at the beginning of Meeting for Worship with Attention to Business, committee meetings, and other Meeting events, even if it’s believed everyone knows each other? 

·      Some people with learning disabilities, memory problems, or neurological disabilities will never be able to learn everyone’s names, no matter how long they’ve been part of a Meeting community and no matter how hard they try.  They may have known you for twenty years and can remember everything you’ve told them about your garden, they may know your name most of the time, but at any given moment they may not be able to pull your name from memory.  People who cannot recognize faces might or might not be able to discern people’s names from other cues.  Name tags are an access tool: they make it possible for many people with disabilities to use people’s names, literally giving them access to names they wouldn’t otherwise have.

·      People who cannot see or who have low vision have no way know who is present at Meeting unless people’s names are shared verbally.  In some meetings, whether small or large, it is the custom to go around the room at the rise of worship and share everyone’s names.  This helps people with neurological, memory, or learning disabilities as well as people who can’t see everyone. 


·      Are side conversations discouraged during announcements, Meeting for Worship with Attention to Business, and committee meetings, so that everyone may hear? 

·      Are the people speaking during announcements, Meeting for Worship with Attention to Business, and committee meetings clearly visible to everyone in the room who is able to see?  Are there clear lines of sight so that people who are hard of hearing or Deaf/deaf are able to see people’s faces and lips when they are speaking?

·      Are there quiet spaces available at the rise of Meeting, and during social time and other events, for people for whom noise is painful, overwhelming, or may trigger a disabling medical event? 

·      It can be very difficult for people who have sensory issues and/or who are hard of hearing to hear what is being said when there is background noise or conversation, including side conversations.  People who have sensory and/or other neurological issues, or who use hearing aids, can have real difficulty in noisy spaces or spaces with a lot of background noise.  Discouraging side conversations during announcements and other business, and making sure quiet spaces are available during social time, makes Meeting more accessible to more people. 

·      Are ultrasonic rodent repellents turned off during Meeting for Worship, Meeting for Worship with Attention to Business, social time, committee meetings, and other events? 

·      Ultrasonic rodent repellents are known to cause headaches for many Friends. 


·      Does the Meeting practice consent culture?[6]  Do people ask before touching each other, whether putting a hand on their arm or giving a hug?  Is “No” a socially-acceptable answer?  Are Friends welcoming if someone waves or blows kisses instead of hugging? 

·      Are children encouraged to decide for themselves whether to hug or kiss adults, or to accept hugs or kisses from them?  Are children taught to ask before touching adults or other children, even in affection?

·      For many Friends with who have sensory issues, balance problems, neurological conditions, orthopedic conditions, chronic pain, other disabilities, and/or who are survivors of interpersonal violence, touch can be painful, overwhelming, or actually dangerous. 

·      People with disabilities have a higher likelihood than non-disabled people to have experienced assault. 

·      Non-disabled people often touch disabled people without their consent when trying to be helpful: for example, moving a blind person to where they believe that person needs to be or is trying to go; moving someone’s wheelchair; etc.  This is an invasion of personal space.  It can also be actively dangerous for people with various disabilities and disabling conditions.  Always ask before touching.  Never “help” a PWD without asking for and gaining consent first.

·      How does your Meeting cue the end of worship? 

·      How do people who are Deaf/deaf, blind or have low vision know Meeting has ended? 

·      If your Meeting shakes hands, what transition is there between worship and hand-shaking for people who cannot go directly from worship to touching other people? 

·      Are alternative greetings besides hand-shaking available and welcome for people for whom going from worship to touching means sensory overstimulation or is unsafe, or who simply don’t like touch?  Are Friends welcoming and supportive if someone waves or nods instead of shaking hands? 


·      Are printed and emailed announcements available? 

·      These help people with auditory processing difficulties, poor short-term memory, and cognitive problems, people who have low vision or are blind and use screen-readers on their computers, people who are hard of hearing, and others. 


·      Are there clear signs in the building?  Can people with short-term memory problems who may not remember verbal directions to the Meeting room, social hall, or bathrooms still find those places? 

Child care / children’s programming

·      Is child care available for young children with disabilities?  Is the program for older children accessible to children with disabilities, whether they can’t sit still, have sensory processing difficulties, use a wheelchair, have developmental disabilities, or have other access needs?

Movement during worship

·      Are Friends encouraged to move quietly during worship when they need to?  Are Friends supported in doing handwork, reading, writing, standing, walking, wiggling, or fidgeting to stay centered in worship? 

·      Are Friends easily able to leave the room to use the bathroom, eat, or take medication, and easily able to return? 

·      Do Friends accept noise from medical equipment, service animals, or adults or children getting up, turning pages of a book, etc., as a blessing of being in beloved community?  Is worship deep enough that such noise is absorbed without disturbance?

Ramps, elevators, and hearing loops revisited

·      This may seem obvious, but: 1) Do they work?, and 2) Is the entire space accessible, not just the Meeting room? 

·      Are there automatic doors?  Can someone who uses a wheelchair get into the building, get into worship space, and also get into social space and business space?  Does the elevator fit a wheelchair?  Can someone who uses a wheelchair actually use the bathroom? 

·      Does the hearing loop work?  Where is it available?  Are events always held in spaces where it is available and working? 

Availability of information

·      Is information about accessibility freely available on-line and in printed materials, where both established members of the community and newcomers can find it easily?  Does someone already need to be a member of the community in order to have their access needs met, to be welcome if they have a disability?

·      Are minutes and materials for Meeting for Worship with Attention to Business available electronically? 

·      This is helpful for people who use screen readers.  It also helps people who cannot always be present in person to stay active in the life of the community. 

·      Is your website screen-reader compatible?[7]

·      Does your website have pop-ups? 

·      Many websites hosted on free providers have pop-ups, which often make it difficult for people with visual or motor issues to navigate web sites. 

·      Having good information available on your website, including newsletters and minutes, makes it easier for Friends with different disabilities to participate fully in the life of the Meeting.  If you do not want minutes to be available to the public, they may be password-protected using various tools, including the Quaker Cloud.[8]

[1] Gender-neutral changing space is an issue of safety and accessibility for people who are transgender, non-binary, and genderqueer.  
[2] This is also an issue for families with children and/or who are caring for adult loved ones. 
[3] For more information, contact Co-Clerks via the webform at
[5] Please see for some of many fragrance-free organizations, events, and products.  
[6] An excellent resource for consent culture in spiritual communities is the anthology Pagan Consent Culture: Building Communities of Empathy and Autonomy, edited by Christine Hoff Kraemer and Yvonne Aburrow (Hubbardsville, MA: Asphodel Press, 2015).  The anthology includes work by several Quaker authors.  Available in print or as an e-book at 

For a shorter introductory exploration of consent culture within Quaker contexts, see “Some Experiences with a Culture of Consent and Radical Inclusion,” available at  
[7] Websites on FGC’s Quaker Cloud tool are not yet fully screen-reader compatible, but have many features that work well with screen readers.  The Quaker Cloud team strongly welcomes Meetings' interest in getting the Quaker Cloud fully optimized for screen readers.  Contact them at or 215-561-1700, or see for more information. 

[8] For more information, please see or call 215-561-1700. 

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