Road to Detroit Disability Teach-In

Calling all non-disabled allies and people with disabilities! On April 3, come join radical disability activists at Access Living in Chicago to discuss issues related to disability work in the progressive and radical movements.

* Saturday, April 3rd
* 11:00am - 3:00pm
* Access Living, 115 W. Chicago Avenue

As we approach the gathering of thousands of grassroots folks and activists in Detroit in June for the US Social Forum, it’s important to think about real inclusion and alliance of the disability movement across America. Chicago is known across the country as home to a vibrant and powerful community of disability activists, who tackle everything from transportation to education to freeing people from nursing facilities.

Addressing the disability factor in your work is a challenging learning process. Often, everything you thought you knew about social justice gets turned on its head when you honestly learn to work with the disability perspective. How can activists organize accessible events and programs? What do activists need to know about disability awareness and etiquette? How can non-disability activists recruit people with disabilities into their work, and vice versa? And finally, what does disability as a political perspective really mean? What are disability rights and what is disability justice?

Many of our radical folks with disabilities are also well versed in nonviolent civil disobedience direct action tactics. Chicago is also known as a center for disability pride, arts and culture, and hosts the country’s best known Disability Pride Parade each July.

RSVP needed?: Yes, please RSVP to Monica Heffner at or (312) 404-6021 so we know how much food we will need.
Please bring $5 to cover the cost of lunch.

*Parking is metered and somewhat difficult, but AL is located on the 156 and 66 bus routes, and just a couple blocks from both the Red and Brown Lines.

**ASL interpreters will be present. Access Living is universally designed. Please contact Monica ASAP if you have need disability-related supports such as a personal attendant in order to participate.

Please spread the word!

Accessibility for People with Disabilities at Public Events

People who attend political actions, marches, meetings, rallies etc. come from all walks of life, classes, abilities, sexual orientations, genders, generations, diverse cultures, values, beliefs, and political spectrums. It’s important to be inclusive as possible to people with disabilities.   Here are some basic accommodations for people with hidden and visible disabilities who will want to attend and participate in indoor and outdoor public events, i.e. rallies, marches, meetings etc

Disability-friendly Publicity 
  • When publicizing your events on flyers, on-line, word of mouth, etc., include a contact number as well as a TTY number or a email. Not everyone can use a standard telephone, so it is important to provide an alternative option for communication.  
  • Include a name of a contact person who has knowledge, understanding, and experience with accommodations for people to call for accommodation needs.
  • Include information such as "smoke-free space", wheelchair accessible, disability parking available, ASL interpreters provided, and if possible give out the address of the wheelchair accessible entrance if it’s not the main entrance. 
  • Post "out of consideration for people who have chemically or environmental  sensitivities, please refrain from wearing perfumes and other scented products," on flyers .
  • Include "to request disability accommodations, please contact _name______ at least 10 days in advance at __ phone # __,__fax __, __e-mail address __”. This will give you time to arrange a sign language interpreters or personal assistants.
  • Do outreach to disability communities, organizations, and agencies.
Accessible Meeting 
  • In the beginning of the meeting, please include, if you are speaking, announce your name first, do not talk over one another in the housekeeping rules. This is helpful for people who are blind and the sign language interpreter when interpreting to a person with a hearing disability. 
  • Please also indicate where bathrooms are located, especially wheelchair accessible bathrooms if needed.
  • Please make all working group sessions inclusive to all people with disabilities. Don’t assume that all disabled people would want to be in the same group, and don’t insist on it either.
  • People with hearing disabilities generally like to sit near the front, so as to better see.  Please save a space for those persons with a disability and the sign language interpreter. If you are presenting don’t block the sight lines of the people watching the interpreter.  Please be conscious of the speed you are talking, fast talking is hard for the sign language interpreter to interpret. 
Common Courtesies
  • If you normally shake hands with people you meet, offer your hand to someone with a disability as well. 
  • Be considerate of the extra time it might take a person with a disability to get things done or said. Let the person set the pace in walking and talking.
  • When talking to someone who speaks slowly or with great effort, don’t pretend to understand. Politely ask them to repeat what you did not understand or ask if writing notes would be okay.
  • The wheelchair is part of the individual personal space, don’t lean on it. Also, don’t push someone in a wheelchair without asking for their permission first.
  • When speaking with a person who is blind or has low vision, always remember to identify yourself, introduce others with you and indicate when you move from one place to another and when the conversation is at an end.
  • Always face a person who is deaf or hard of hearing so that they can read your lips. When in doubt- if they understood, what you said ask if it would be OK to write it. Speaking loudly does not mean you will be heard, and is sometimes perceived as very patronizing and offensive.
  • When talking to  a person with a disability, speak directly to him or her rather than through a companion or sign language interpreter. Make eye contact with the person you are talking to.  
  • Do not pet service animals as they are working.
Language Issues

Certain words or phrases are generally offensive to many people with disabilities.  For example, “mentally or physically challenged,” “retard,” “handicapable,” “crippled,” “gimp,” “deaf and dumb,” “mute,” “blink,” “paralyzed,” “wheelchair bound,” “crazy” and so forth.  The safest course is to use “person first” language, which refers to a person and then to whatever their condition or identity is.  So, one might say “ a person with Down syndrome” or “people with spina bifida.”  Or you can just refer to the person by his/her name.
Due to cultural issues, referring to hearing “impairments” is generally shunned (because Deaf people might say you are “Deaf impaired!”).  You can refer to people who are Deaf or hard of hearing.

Political Perspectives

It may help to understand disability as a political frame of reference, or a philosophical lens, or a cultural perspective.  It is not simply a matter of bodily, mental or psychological difference---it refers to an entire viewpoint.  In the disability community, expecting difference is the standard mode of operating.  Disability affects every single issue and cause that exists.  There is ALWAYS a disability spin on an issue.  Airing knowledge or ignorance of disability helps prevent the disability perspective from becoming invisible.

Just like any other movement or community, we have our radicals and our moderates and our conservatives.  Not every person with a disability will identify as such or feel compelled to focus on disability as an important part of their lives.  Others will feel driven to place the disability perspective at the center of their experience.  Not everyone will feel they are necessarily part of the “disability community.”  However it pays to bear in mind that according to the last census, there are 54 million people with disabilities in the US, and 600,000 of them live in the metropolitan Chicago area.