STOP QUOTING THE POLICY AT ME! (Or: Your Piece of Paper Doesn’t Exclude Me Any Less)

I am so tired of having ‘the policy’ quoted at me.

This year I wanted to attend Autscape. I am tired, so tired, of daily trying to fight my way into the neurotypical world. I was excited about an event that puts autistic people at the centre, makes itself accessible to all autistic and neurodivergent people.

Then I found out it wasn’t fully accessible to wheelchair users.

OK, I thought. Maybe I can make it work for me. Maybe I can be creative, work around issues, with the help of the organising committee who will no doubt support me with information and help.

Then I found out that it’s their policy to focus on wheelchair accessibility only ever other year, to keep costs down the other year. And the familiar disappointment kicked in. And I just… gave up.

I found it a little ironic that the theme of this year’s Autscape was ‘creating autistic space’. Autistic space that excludes certain autistic people. And that when I talked with a delegate over twitter about a session running there on the subject of exclusion in the autistic community, I was told that wheelchair accessibility had already been discussed (with the hint that it would not be discussed again). While the person no doubt meant the comment helpfully, it was a reminder that even in discussions about who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’, a whole excluded group has already been ‘dealt with’ and the conversation there has ended.

All because of a policy.

To quote an email I sent to a friend today:

I told my wheelchair-using autistic friend about this and she wondered how the autistic community would feel about a neurodiversity conference that wasn’t accessible to autistic people every other year. Despite the fact that everyone is quoting the bloody policy at me every time I bring this up, telling me that it will be accessible next year is not good enough… I sobbed my way through reading the Autscape twitter feed this year. And deleted a tweet complaining about access because I worried I’d get shouted at. Really sucks.

Pagan Parallels

I’ve talked a lot, mostly on my other blog, about inaccessibility in the Pagan community. It continues without much sign of improvement, especially in London. The excuse gets rolled out a lot when I complain – whatever the excuse is, whether needing privacy for discussion, or the inaccessibility of pubs in London, or (funniest of all) that no wheelchair users ever come to the events. (Really?! No wheelchair users come to events held in an upstairs room? You do surprise me!)

For the past couple of years I’ve also been struggling with OBOD‘s approaches to accessibility and policies about certain disability issues. (More on that later when I feel up to discussing it, and maybe at Gods and Radicals soon.) Once again, it’s not so much the existence of the policy that’s the problem (although it is a problem). Worse is the way that people respond every. single. time. I mention it. “This is the reason for the policy! Learn about the policy! It is a good policy!”

Brick walls, and communal dismissive attitudes, and regrouping protectively around the boundaries of your organisation. These are the very definition of exclusion.

Please Stop Quoting the Policy At Me: Some Effects of Brick-Wall Exclusionary Policy-Citing

It’s one thing for something to be inaccessible or exclusionary. It’s quite another for you to have enshrined that inaccessibility in a policy – and then to constantly quote that policy at me as justification for your inaccessibility. I know there’s usually a reason for inaccessibility. I know it’s sometimes a really good reason. Can we please assume that, as an informed disability rights campaigner, I already know the reason, disagree with it, and would like to move on to talking about ways forward, alternatives that might include me and people like me? Instead, though, I meet the brick wall of a hundred people quoting the policy whenever I mention access difficulties. Or saying things at me like “This has been discussed before,” as though that solves the problem. Somehow, never an apology. Never a “Here’s what we’re in the process of doing to try and fix this, longer-term.” Never even an acknowledgement that this is a problem, a policy of exclusion, an example of disability oppression. Always the justification. Always the assertion that they are right, and that I am the one with the problem.

As a result, I feel excluded from your community. (Which becomes your community, not mine anymore.) I increasingly withdraw from your events, including those that are fully accessible. I become avoidant about talking to people from your group about access at future events. I become scared of your group. Mentions of it start to be upsetting to me. Your group stops representing safe space, and starts representing exclusion and oppression.

I Keep Offering Help…

I don’t have a lot of  free time. The time I do have is spent dividing up my tasks (PhD, other work, volunteering in many ways, personal life) against my spoons, trying to eke them out into something that approximates a rewarding life. Yet I will always respond to inaccessibility with an offer to help fix it – usually for free. Consider taking me up on this. I charge private organisations around £250 per half day for this help. If I’ve offered you help to fix something, you’re being offered something valuable from a trained and experienced Disability Equality Trainer and widely-published writer on the subject. If you turn me down, and then get taken to court by someone with more determination than me, and find yourselves unable to say you’ve done anything, you might start wishing you’d accepted the help. (I’m talking mainly to the dozens of Pagan orgs and groups I’ve offered help to, here.)

There’s a related question, too: how far do I have a responsibility to fight these things? Can I belong to OBOD when I know that one of their policies, and other of their accessibility practices, are problematic for entire swathes of the disabled community? Can I go to Autscape knowing that their policy is to exclude wheelchair users every other year? In both cases, the policies do exist for really good reasons, in one case (Autscape) with the aim of not excluding others (people living in poverty). Intersectionality is complex, and the real world is a complicated place. So what is my responsibility to campaign and fight here? Do I have a personal obligation to fight and campaign? And how does that affect my right, and need, to live as ordinary a life as possible? (I need spiritual practices/groups that make me happy and I need safe autistic spaces. Am I allowed them, as a campaigner with integrity?)

Accessibility Has More To Do With Imagination Than Money

Yes, accessibility can (sometimes) be expensive.

Yes, inclusive policies can open you up to other kinds of legal issues.

You can still make change, with enough imagination. Druid Camp is working with me on making their camp more accessible for more disabled people. If they can manage that in an empty field, you can change a few things with a little creative thought.

And by accepting help from those who offer it.

And by not shouting people down, but instead being willing to listen and change.

Final Thought: A World of Disappointment

For me, my experience as I engage with an inaccessible society is one of consistent disappointment. I meet disappointment about 80% of the time that I want to do something other people can do. And I am disappointed in people I want to think better of.

I would like to live in a world in which I experienced a little less disappointment.

And this is why we fight.

Resources

I’ve recently been writing about exclusion from universities and churches, in relation to my research, for a creative research journal that’s coming out soon. I’ll link to it here when it’s out.

I’ve set up a Facebook group for marginalised Pagans from minority, oppressed and excluded groups. Do join if you fall into that category. I’d like to get allies together to work on some of these issues.

Cross-posted to my non-Pagan, campaigning blog. Because the lines between spiritual experience and civil rights are fuzzy.

6 thoughts on “STOP QUOTING THE POLICY AT ME! (Or: Your Piece of Paper Doesn’t Exclude Me Any Less)

  1. Can we talk about the OBOD issue sometime? I mentor for OBOD, I have some insight, and the short version of this is that with a correspondence course, we have no way of properly supporting people with severe mental health problems (Not depression, or anxiety, or quite a lot of other things including autism) we can’t adequately support people who are full on delusional as part of a distance learning program, we can’t take proper care of someone with those kinds of needs, there is no way to deliver it safely as things stand, and those within OBOD with more experience on this issue don’t really feel that everything we do is necessarily going to be good or safe for someone who already has a complicated and problematic relationship with consensus reality. We don’t have the funds to train and support mentors at a level that would enable them to responsibly support someone in that situation. I’m a long term sufferer from depression and anxiety, and I mentor on the course. The small minority of people we have to say no to, it is as much about their safety as anything else. If you want to make suggestions about how OBOD could be adapted to be more inclusive, feel free to email me and I will pass it along.

    • Happy to, but it needs a major rethink and I don’t think OBOD is particularly committed to that. Confusion over the policy is one of the major problems, but it’s not the only one. I have a post on Gods and Radicals later this week about the wider issue of discourses of vulnerability vs equality that will mention this.

      • I think some of the problem is that what’s in the public domain is ‘OBOD doesn’t accept people with mental health problems’ which is not true, it’s more specific than that. I’ve spent a lot of time recently trying to counter this. The problem is that OBOD is an international teaching course run by volunteers, a student may not have a mentor in their country, much less closer to hand, there aren’t that many mentors, there is no budget for us to travel, most of us are not trained to deal with really complex mental health problems – if we required that, we would have to fold, we could not deliver the training or the support the international community of volunteers would need. Mentors are available to students on request, not everyone works closely with a mentor, so a vulnerable person could take the course, have no support because they don’t seek it… get into trouble and have no safety net. I don’t feel comfortable with that. As a distance support person, there’s a serious limit on what I can do to help any given student. I put heart and soul into this. I have experience of bipolar, delusional people, people having somewhat psychotic episodes – I know what that’s like to deal with in person. If OBOD asked me to take responsibility for helping someone on their journey, from a distance, who was that troubled, I do not honestly think I could bear the weight of responsibility I know this would put on me, and I would have to step down as a mentor.

      • I understand the issue. But there are many problems with the policy, not least that on the website OBOD states that no one who has ever been diagnosed with a psychotic disorder should join the course, while people like you say something different, and others have accused me of misrepresenting the policy when I have simply quoted it. I’ve had some quite worrying aggression when I’ve done so, too. There is an issue over whether or not it is a blanket ban, and if not, what it actually means. If it means what it clearly states, there are issues with it on an Equality Law level. Simple as that.

      • (please excuse my lack of ability to phrase things very well or have complex debates today. I’m in the middle of a two-day migraine. I’m writing a longer piece for another forum which I hope will explain better what some of the issues are.)

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