Written by: Martha D, SFU Student
There are people with disabilities and varying needs in every community. Making space that everyone can access equally is showing appreciation and respect for all of those community-members that frequently end up ignored. Too often, accessibility is either entirely brushed aside or added as an afterthought for club and campus events.
In my own experiences, I have noticed how frequently access needs are only acknowledged if someone, usually a disabled student, brings the topic up. This doesn’t support the disabled and neurodivergent student body in feeling included in general campus life.
Some ways to improve club and campus involvement in widening access can involve centering disability justice education on campus, like TSSU recently did, and including disabled students in event planning or review.
SFU Autistics United (SFU AU) is a club on campus that practices access check-ins during their meetings along with introductions. An access check-in is when you allow people to say if their needs are being met. Are the lights too bright? Is there a strong scent or loud sound that is irritating? If there is a need to be met, then the group tries to solve or reduce the barrier collectively. This is something any student group can do with little-to-no difficulty.
A page on the website for the Disability Intersectionality Summit, a conference centered on the experiences of people with disabilities, highlights 10 steps to start creating access in everyday life and event planning. Some of the steps include writing image descriptions, captioning videos, and practicing solidarity by keeping each other accountable for accessibility details on events. By factoring these steps into the planning stage, events won’t be leaving people out or hurriedly trying to create new accommodations for a pre-planned event since measures of inclusiveness are already built in.
Particularly for clubs at SFU, there is a specific Accessibility Fund offered by the SFSS for club events to cover costs to provide access. The application process is the same as applying for grants to cover any other costs in event planning, and no club should ever overlook using this resource.
Attending the SFU AU meetings has shown me how there are a lot of things I don’t think about in my daily life that affect others. Similarly, it has made me more aware and mindful of my surroundings and the people around me. Accessibility ranges from ASL interpretation to reduced scent spaces to wheelchair-appropriate spaces. In conversation with a friend recently, I realized how broad access needs can be. Learning is an active process, so try to include a bit more of these methods into your events each time.