Thursday, February 24, 2011

An accessibility ally

At a Quaker retreat last weekend, during the introductory announcements about the site, the schedule, etc., a member of the Planning Committee made some announcements about accessibility, including an announcement about the fragrance-free nature of the gathering.

I was grumpy and overwhelmed at that point.  I felt that fragrance issues hadn't quite been handled adequately so far, in a community with a history of handling them very well.  I'd been trying to negotiate with my (well-meaning and responsive) cabin-mates, who'd brought fragranced personal care products with them.  I certainly did not expect to have the reaction I did to zir announcement.

Ze stated very clearly that this was a fragrance-free gathering, and that this was for accessibility reasons and is an accessibility issue.  Ze explained plainly and clearly several of the problems fragranced products can cause for people with medical conditions triggered or exacerbated by chemicals in fragrances, and how such exposure would prevent members of our community from participating in the gathering. 

But ze went further.  Ze announced that the Planning Committee was providing fragrance-free soap, shampoo, and conditioner.  Ze added, "So there's no excuse for using scented products."  Ze also said, If you are wearing something scented and someone with a fragrance sensitivity can smell it, you have already made them sick.  Then ze said (I'm paraphrasing), If we can smell a fragrance, those of us without fragrance sensitivities, being allies and advocates, are the ones who should take it upon ourselves to say something in situations like that, rather than leaving it to people who are sensitive.

How did I feel? 

This heavy load lifted from my shoulders.  There were all sorts of things ze had said, and so I didn't have to.  There were all sorts of ways ze was advocating for me and for other people there with this accessibility issue, and ze was calling other allies to do so, and so we didn't have to.  I was off duty.  It was amazing.  It gets so completely exhausting doing self-advocacy around disability accessibility (and not just disability).  This weight just lifted from my shoulders. 

I made a point, later, of telling ze how much I appreciated what ze had said and the language ze had used.  Ze said it was heart-felt, and that was how ze had chosen zir words, and that ze appreciated the feedback. 

Me, I appreciated zir advocacy, and I appreciated how the whole community -- once again -- embraced responsibility for accessibility for vulnerable members of our community. 

Someone over the weekend reminded us vocally that "community is a Quaker testimony."  Yes. 

Blessed be.  Thank you, Friends. 

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