I wrote this in April. Read part one here.
I’ve been thinking about how much of the work I do relates to access in employment and the arts. But what about access in friendships and other relationships? It’s just as important. And why isn’t it fought for – and honoured – like in the aforementioned areas?
Late last year I chose to end a friendship because my now ex-friend consistently invited me to inaccessible events. The events were held outside, and were not comfortable for me to attend. There were inside options for those events, but this friend opted for the outdoor events.
I raised this a number of times, over more than a year, with other friends witnessing my access request.
I was told that if I wanted to attend an accessible event, I should organise it myself, this friend just wants to have fun.
And I do regularly organise accessible events – in my many types of work and in my social life. But it’s also not up to me to have to do all the work.
I left the group chat.
This whole situation has not been addressed with me. Instead I was ghosted. I haven’t received an apology. I quietly let that friendship go.
To me, friendship means honouring each other’s access needs – even when they are competing, and especially when they are an easy fix.
It’s about asking someone if they have access needs when inviting them to an event, and trying to find an activity, venue or location that is suitable.
It’s about eliminating ableist words from our vocabulary, listening to feedback and realising the harm they can do.
It’s about holding space for each other – and acknowledging that requesting accessible events and venues doesn’t mean that we are being difficult, or that we are trying to remove the fun from a situation.
It’s about being vaccinated (against all sorts of communicable diseases) to protect yourself and those around you, being honest if you’re not, and staying away from your vulnerable friends when you’re sick.
It’s about not guilting or shaming us for our access needs.
Its acknowledging there will be different, sometimes competing access needs, within friendships – and that it’s possible to meet in the middle.
It’s about not constantly ignoring our accessibility requests, or say accessibility is not fun.
It’s about not getting defensive or closing off when we have these conversations.
And it’s about not ghosting us for months after we’ve been deemed as “difficult” in asking for accessibility.
As Alice Wong, Sandy Ho and Mia Mingus have said, “Access is Love”. A motto I strive to live by, and I hope that my friends adopt too.
Some quick tips for being an ally as a friend:
Ask about your friends’ access needs – and aim to meet them. Birthday parties, spa days, drinks, entertainment events. Contact the venue to ask if it’s accessible – does it have steps at the entrance, is there an accessible toilet that can be used unassisted, is there a lift, is it inside or outside – etc. Decide whether the venue is suitable for your event – rebook if necessary. Let your friends know about the venue’s access provisions before your event. Advocate for better access if the venue isn’t accessible.
Eliminate ableist language from your vocabulary. Unlearning this takes work. Instead of using a disability slur to describe someone who has behaved badly, describe their behaviour. Talk to your other friends and family when they use ableist language – explaining how harmful these words are, even when not directed at disabled people.
Recognise and respect your friends’ limitations. If they can’t come out with you on the weekend, go to them.
Wear a mask. Covid isn’t over, and wearing a mask not only protects you but shows your disabled friends that you love and want to keep them safe.
Sit with your discomfort when called in about your ableism. Don’t get defensive. Work at being a better ally.
Your disabled friend being stared at or ridiculed isn’t about you. If you’re embarrassed or uncomfortable about this happening to your friend, think about why? Don’t centre yourself in these situations. Imagine what it’s like for your disabled friend to endure this day in, day out.
Help advocate when your friend is discriminated against. Write letters explaining the discrimination or inaccessibility, call for the org to do better.
Has this post helped you think differently about disability and appearance diversity? Will you use it in your work? Please consider buying me a drink. Thanks!