Accessibility concerns

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Many people in our world today have some degree of accessibility concern. For some people it’s mobility – they have trouble with stairs, can’t stand for long periods, or use mobility aids like canes or wheelchairs. Some people are very sensitive to light or sound or scent. Some have foods they need to avoid. And some have vision or hearing impairments. (And I’m sure I’ve missed some below: please let me know of things to add!)

There are no easy answers to this in the Pagan community, though the community as a whole is slowly improving how it communicates about and handles these concerns. Part of this is practical: most Pagan groups are either renting space (so are limited in their options and access choices) or they meet in private homes, where you have all the complications and limitations of private homes (i.e. limited space, often stairs, pets, and other such things.)

What you should know:

Pagan groups are almost entirely volunteer run, and often by a small number of people.
That means you’re relying on the knowledge of the people running a given event in terms of accessibility,. Some of us are very attentive to it. (I try really hard). Some folks aren’t. Some folks would like to help, but aren’t very knowledgeable about the issues. You won’t know which a given group is which until you talk to them.

Pagan groups tend to be small.
Even the larger public rituals mostly run 50-100 people outside a few very large events. Many access options require additional preparation, and with limited resources, small planning groups do pick and choose what they’re going to focus on. Advance conversations about your needs will help a lot, as well as a willingness to explain clearly what precisely you need or would find helpful.

(For example, if I’m preparing a large-text version of a program, it’s helpful to know if you’d prefer it electronically or on paper: we can certainly print it, but if you’d rather have an electronic copy, we can both get it to you faster and save paper and printing costs.)

It will be much appreciated if you communicate with the people running the event in advance.
A little advance warning can go a long way in what a group can provide for access – two to three weeks before is a pretty good time to check in if it’s something like wondering they can bring or provide something like large print materials (they won’t be in the last chaos of putting things together, but will have a pretty good idea what they’ll be doing and can adapt.)

Larger choices like site location or general access obviously need to be known much further in advance – groups typically arrange sites anywhere from a month or two in advance to as much as a year in advance.

Not all accommodations are possible in all situations.
Regrettable, but true. Especially for groups meeting in someone’s home, sometimes needs simply collide. (Someone who has scent or chemical allergies will be very unhappy in the home of someone who uses scent for pain management. Some homes aren’t wheelchair accessible, or their temple and ritual spaces might not be.) You can read more about some of the complications on a post on my blog from May 2010.

Groups are also often balancing competing demands – rental space is a common area for this. Rentable spaces that are best suited for Pagan ritual work are not always as as accessible as we’d like. (In different locations I’ve been in, they include a number of downstairs function rooms with no elevator, for example.) Yet other spaces may be out of the price range, or have factors (noise, privacy, light) that may make them a bad choice for other reasons. Again, knowing about particular needs can help groups prioritise different aspects.

Be aware that the group may be planning around the ritual leader’s own needs:
As the Pagan community ages, many of our own group leaders have specific needs, and may be making choices to suit that. With small groups and limited volunteer power, some options are going to be easier than others. Conversation can help figure out what else might be possible.

If you… (answers to some fairly common needs)

Need to sit during ritual and/or can’t dance/move quickly:
Generally, this is the easy one to solve these days: most groups will indicate a place you can set your chair, or set up a chair for you. If you have very specific needs (it has to have a back, be a certain height, etc.) be clear about that well in advance.

Can’t handle stairs:
Check first to see what the options are. Many Pagan rituals in my area end up being in the community room of a religious community space, so they’re not always on the ground level. Some spaces have elevators, but older ones often don’t. In private homes, often the ritual space is in what would otherwise be the family or play room – again, often in the basement.

Have trouble breathing: asthma, scent allergies, and related issues:
Many groups do use incense or essential oil as part of ritual. How flexible they are about its use (and the specific scent) depends on the group, so ask for specifics in advance.

Can’t eat/drink the food being passed for the ritual meal:
Different paths have different requirements for this. Some groups may be happy either picking something everyone can share in, or providing a selection of options (for example, bread and fruit, rather than just bread.) If you have concerns about cross-contamination, be really clear what you can and can’t handle. Bring up any ritual food needs well in advance – the person providing them may need to pick them up several days before the ritual, rather than go shopping last minute.

Some paths have specific requirements for what’s passed as the ritual meal (most commonly bread and wine). If you can’t eat it, or aren’t sure about it, the easiest thing to do is to simply bow your head over it and hand it back. This also works if you have a compromised immune system, and don’t want to risk other people’s germs, or are contagious yourself.

Are light sensitive:
Ask questions. Some groups leave indoor lighting on. Some do ritual after dark, and work by candlelight or very soft interior lights. Ask about your specific needs (and ask if there will be chant lyric sheets or anything else you’d need to read.) If you’re light-sensitive, ask if there will be a bonfire, and decide if you’re up to handling it.

(Strobe lights and very bright lights are very uncommon, but do show up occasionally in big ‘production’ style rituals.)

Have vision impairment:
Many groups hand out lyrics to the chants in the ritual as part of the ritual. A large-type copy is easy to arrange, but most groups won’t provide one unless they know it’s needed. Advance digital copies may be possible with sufficient notice.

Have hearing impairment:
Hearing impairments are very tricky, the way that a lot of smaller groups work – they impact guided meditation, how we interact in ritual, and a host of other things. This is a time when a frank discussion with the group leadership well in advance of the ritual might be very helpful.

Options you might want to explore are seeing the ritual script in advance (if there is one), especially any meditations or longer spoken texts, or if you have some hearing, being placed wherever it makes it easiest for you to hear.

(ASL interpreters are getting a little more common at the large public events, but it can be challenging to find resources to locate and if necessary pay for them for a smaller event with a tight budget)

If you lipread, discuss light levels and where you should stand in advance. Lighting is often adaptable, but depending on how the ritual works, placement can be a little more complicated to figure out (since people with ritual roles will move, turn in different directions, etc.)

Have food limitations:
Make sure you have sufficient food and water for yourself – potluck food may not have enough options for you, or you may need something right after ritual (before the potluck gets going.)

Use a ride service (or are getting a ride from others not attending)
If you use a ride service due to mobility issues, and they give a wide time frame for pick up and drop off, check to find out when you can arrive and when you need to leave by. The group might not have access to the space before a particular point if they’re renting. If it’s a private home, the people who live there may need time to get home from work, bathe and change, do last minute preparation, etc. Likewise, they may need to go to bed at some point so they can function the next day. Talking will help you figure out the best time window, or whether there’s a better place for you to wait in advance (a coffee shop nearby where another member can meet you.)

You should expect to entertain yourself (bring a book, etc.) until everyone else arrives, rather than have a nice long friendly chat with people who are putting the ritual together.

Have a service animal:
Service animals in rented ritual spaces are probably just fine (but it would be good to give the ritual planners a head’s up in case they had something in mind that needs adjusting – for example, finding a space for the service animal to be positioned out of the common movements in the ritual space, or paths that will be used in low lighting.)

In private homes, it’s trickier: the ADA doesn’t apply to private homes or invite-only settings, and religious settings also have specific exemptions. This is for good practical reason. Some people have allergies sufficient to make it hard to host any animal in their personal living space. Some have pets who do not do well with other animals. There may be specific concerns around space, mobility, or allergy needs of other attendees. Advance conversation will help everyone figure out what works for that situation.

Need to run to the bathroom, potentially during ritual:
This can be a little tricky, as it can disrupt the flow of energy for everyone in ritual – not such a big deal if it’s a crafting-focused ritual and people are working on making something, more of problem during a longer meditation or energy raising. Talking with the group ritual leaders in advance is a good way to go, to help figure out the best solution for what they’re doing.

Medical needs that might need attention:
We all hope no one’s going to need medical attention. However, a number of people have the experience of having magical, ritual, or energetic work affect a particular condition (asthma and blood sugar issues are both somewhat common here, but there are other conditions it can come up for as well). It’s good to let the people running the event know whether it can be solved by giving you food/quiet/water, or whether they should be calling 911.

When in doubt, don’t push yourself when with an unfamiliar group: there will be rituals and events at other times.

[last edited December 26, 2016]

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