What can you learn from our new Disability Caucus?

By Ethan F

"It's so disappointing to try and join your comrades at the bar after a meeting only to find that your mobility device can't get you in the door. Community spaces are wonderful and badly needed, but when attendance at an event is necessary for full participation in our organization, and the free community space requires climbing stairs or trying to focus in an environment that's overwhelming in sight or sound, we are setting up the same barriers that disabled people face everywhere else. We can do better." — Rachel S

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The NYC-DSA Disability Caucus hasn’t been around for long, but we’ve been busy. Last month, the Steering Committee passed our Accessibility Guidelines and caucus members have started the process of verifying ADA-accessible event locations throughout the city. With this — and with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s resounding victory bringing many new members into DSA — it’s important for us to take this time to remind our comrades of the importance of inclusivity and accessible spaces.

People with disabilities are often the first to be trampled over, preyed upon, ostracized and othered by the forces of capitalism. When we strive to make our spaces more accessible, we begin to dismantle this tendency in our society, in DSA, and in our hearts. But our efforts must be more meaningful than flowery rhetoric, ardent promises, and lip service; we must take concrete action.

We have acknowledged the problem of accessibility in DSA. We have provided a path towards reconciliation and the betterment of our organization for all our members, not just those with disabilities. Will there be bumps in the road and unforeseen challenges? Almost certainly. But challenging ourselves to do more is at the core of our Guidelines, and we intend to challenge every member of NYC-DSA to do just that.

This means good faith efforts to obtain accessible locations and convey details about accessibility, agendas, and materials available well in advance. It means greater attempts to accommodate virtual attendance, particularly in inaccessible locations. It means gently reminding attendees that snapping or ASL applause is preferable to clapping. It means hosting events and post-meeting socials at locations that don’t serve alcohol and offering equally attractive non-alcoholic beverages. It means improved communication about childcare. It means making sure your comrades with disabilities can have vital roles in campaigns and canvassing drives available to them, such as tabling on-site or remotely via social media.

For many members, accessibility is often the difference between being able to fully participate in DSA and being sidelined by fellow organizers. “It's so disappointing to try and join your comrades at the bar after a meeting only to find that your mobility device can't get you in the door,” writes Caucus member Rachel S. “Community spaces are wonderful and badly needed, but when attendance at an event is necessary for full participation in our organization, and the free community space requires climbing stairs or trying to focus in an environment that's overwhelming in sight or sound, we are setting up the same barriers that disabled people face everywhere else. We can do better."

Do better we must. The recent resignation of DSA’s Disability Working Group has once again highlighted the divide between our words and our deeds when it comes to standing with those with disabilities. By allowing this group to be harassed from within DSA and without, we have lost important allies and shaken the faith of those of us who believe we can be better than the exploitative, dehumanizing systems that have produced us.  It now falls to local working groups and caucuses such as our own to continue the work these stalwart disability organizers have started, with the ardent hope that able-bodied members will reach out to their comrades with disabilities and begin the process of communicating issues, collaborating on solutions, and building trust in one another.

We look forward to working with you.

(If you want to learn more about joining our Disability Caucus or have questions about accessibility, email us at disabilitycaucusnycdsa@gmail.com, and follow our Facebook and Twitter for updates)