Go figure, stanza 71 of Havamal is my favorite:
A limping man can ride a horse,From the Jackson Crawford translation.
A handless man can herd,
A deaf man can fight and win.
It is better even to be blind,
than fuel for the funeral pyre;
what can a dead man do?
Accessibility is, in my opinion, the baseline for inclusivity. We can talk all we like about welcoming all, or welcoming all who welcome all. (A phrasing I quite like, because it draws the line at exclusionary types, as it should.) To an extent, we do have to center the issues of racism, misogyny and homophobia in the work against active, extreme hatred. They are the most visible problems, and they’re the biggest motivators for exclusionary and violent Heathens.
But if people with disabilities can’t make use of our materials, if they can’t attend events, or through no fault of their own can’t communicate with us in the currently available format, what do we communicate to them by allowing that to continue?
What do we convey when we trot out “the deaf man is brave in battle,” if we don’t give him the option to participate fully in the ones we’re currently waging against hate? What lesson does that Deaf man take away from the situation when he can neither hear what we have to say, nor contribute his own valuable feedback?
And what do we convey when we trot out “those who can’t walk, can ride” if those riders can’t get their mobility devices into our event spaces?
We teeter dangerously close to tokenization, if we’re not there already.
A lot of ableism happens, not in the form of active malice, but in the form of ignorance. A lot of able people genuinely do not know how vital and non-negotiable accessibility is. They have never had to think about it.
And I don’t want people to feel guilty. Unactionable guilt is a useless emotion that sucks up resources better spent. But these are the objective facts. Your privilege is not your fault, and it is still privilege.
The upside is that this can be resolved.
Listen, Research, Evaluate
Consult with disability activists and resources, both in your area and online, for general information on disability and accommodation. Learn what ableism is, learn what it looks like, examine your own assumptions and actions so you know what needs to be changed around you and within you.
And expect to work on it as you go.
I have been familiar with, and actively working on these issues for well over 20 years. There is still stuff I don’t know and need to work on, up to and including internalized ableism about my various Brain Problems. It’s a process.
After you have this background knowledge, consult with Heathens and pagans with disabilities in your communities. I make this the second step, because having a working knowledge of Disability 101 will help you save other people’s spoons.
Often, people with disabilities will raise the issue on their own. But don’t make having to ask the default. Part of accessibility is opening the floor to discussing it in the first place, and showing that you’re ready to learn about and meet people’s needs. That prepares you to anticipate their needs in the future, eventually reaching a stage where accessibility is the default state.
Create Accessible Resources, Spaces, Events
Inaccessibility, when it comes to Heathenry, can often come from assuming:
- Everyone can make use of your resources in their current state
(Something I have to work on, actually. This blog is not as screen-reader friendly as it could or should be.)
- Everyone can navigate the location where ritual is held
- Everyone can see or hear what is going on during ritual
- Everyone can communicate during ritual
- The ritual will not trigger some sensory issue
- Smoke from burnt offerings will not trigger respiratory issues/chemical sensitivities
- Alcoholic libations are safe for attendees
And so on.
So what can you do to correct these issues when you catch them?
Make Your Media Accessible
Offer resources like translations of the lore, Heathenry 101 guides, etc. in multiple formats. If it’s in text, make sure the text is screen-reader friendly or there’s an audio version available for people who are Blind or who have dyslexia. If it’s audio or video, make sure it’s captioned for people who are Deaf, Hard-of-Hearing, or who have issues with working memory.
I’m in the last category. I have perfectly good hearing, (hence, why I am someone who does captions) but I sometimes forget what people are saying while they are saying it. Captions make watching videos easier.
Make Your Events Accessible
What is a wheelchair-accessible building, really?
It’s more than just the presence of a ramp. Can someone who needs that ramp get through the door without help? Or does access require summoning somebody, like at a community center here in Philly where you have to press a doorbell and hope somebody heard it? They usually don’t. That building is not accessible.
Can the building be navigated by someone with a bulky mobility device like a wheelchair, or rollator, or walker? Or are the hallways narrow, and is there no elevator in sight? Does the building have split levels with no workarounds–or do the workarounds place an undue burden on visitors? That building is not accessible.
And it’s not just buildings!
Does your ritual have Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing attendees? Do you have a Sign Language interpreter or printed program you won’t stray from? Or are you working off a script that visitors don’t see or have interpreted for them? Will people who communicate with Sign Language be understood and able to participate, and will their hands be free to sign during Blot and Sumbl? If not, your ritual will not be accessible.
Does your ritual include physical contact despite having a sensory-defensive attendee? Are you burning incense in the presence of someone with Scent-Safe needs? Is there only one horn, containing an alcoholic libation, when there are attendees recovering from alcoholism, or who have allergies to common beer and wine ingredients, or who have medical needs that require abstaining from alcohol?
You get the idea.
It sounds like a lot of extra effort. It can, indeed, be a lot of extra effort.
But when compared to the undue burden a lack of accessibility places on Heathens with disabilities, it becomes rather minor. And, if people are excluded by the actions we take, or the circumstances we create, we are inclusive in intent but not in practice.
The exclusion created by a lack of accessibility is usually accidental, rather than targeted and willfully malicious. But the end result is the same for the people it most directly affects. If we are to make our Heathenry inclusive, we must also make it accessible.
Deaf Pagan Crossroads, which covers the intersection of being Deaf and Pagan.
“Pagans with Disabilities Face Unseen Challenges,” via The Wild Hunt
“Pagans with Disabilities, and the Need for Inclusiveness,” via Patti Wigington