Dear Writing Programmes:
Everything you do—classes, retreats, workshops—should be accessible. Many of you are not.
I’ve heard all your excuses: But we love the quaint/rustic/boho vibe, and that will be ruined if we have to change! But we can’t have our woods/private chef/coziness if we move to an accessible space! But it’s important we give the students an inexpensive experience, and access costs money!
I have no sympathy for your excuses. To disabled writers like me it does not matter how beautiful/cosy/inexpensive your traditional/sorority/in-the-woods space is because we can’t access it. If we can’t visit, to teach or write, then it’s not beautiful or welcoming or inexpensive, it is a fenced enclosure with a huge red sign on the gate saying CRIPPLES KEEP OUT.
Twenty percent of the US population is disabled. How many of your participants are? If the answer is less than 20%, ask yourself why. Explain to me why it is acceptable to bar your retreat/programme/workshop to disabled writers but not acceptable to bar women, writers of colour, or queer writers.
Not every programme can become accessible overnight. But every programme can commit to a public timetable for becoming accessible. If you’re not willing to welcome us, you are saying, We don’t care about disabled writers, we don’t want your stories, disabled people don’t matter.
So here’s a public promise: after I have fulfilled my immediate contractual obligations, I will no longer support in any way any writing-related programme or organisation that does not have a public commitment to and specific timetable for becoming accessible. I will call on other writers to do the same. In addition, all writing programmes should include their accessibility policy and access information on their website. If you are not accessible say so plainly so that those of us who are disabled don’t have to work to find out we’re not welcome. Disabled people do too much work to survive already. Don’t put this work on us. Be clear. Be brave. Do the right thing. We’re watching.
11 thoughts on “An open letter to all writing programmes, workshops, and retreats”
Hear hear!! I’m sure you’ve heard all the same stupid comments that I have – “Once you’re inside, it’s fully accessible” (after you’ve climbed the steps to get in); “Oh, we didn’t think it was worth installing a ramp, we don’t get many disabled visitors” (gee, I wonder why that is!); and, from numerous retail places, “Well, it doesn’t matter if you can’t get in – anything you want to look at, we can bring out to you….” (so, your entire stock, then!!).
I wouldn’t wish an unexpected disability on anyone who says stupid things like that, but *anyone* can find themselves disabled. Many disabled people were not born disabled – for example, you and me (I’ve had severe CFIDS/ME for 20 years). It could happen to these people just as easily as it happened to us. WE ARE NOT A BREED APART. I get so fed up being treated like this.
Thank you for writing this!
I’ve been a wheelchair user for 25 years and have heard all those excuses too. Add in being a lesbian that hasn’t hidden myself and the discriminations not only hurt, they just become terribly exhausting! There have been many “Women’s” retreats & festivals I’ve not been able to attend or didn’t want to because I chose not to take them up on their offer to eg. have strangers carry me in, up the stairs- (then what!?) or because the deep gravel was too much even for my electric chair to handle. It’s nice to hear a professional stand with or for- me and others, I appreciate you very much! Good luck and best wishes!
I just discovered you on Amazon and can’t wait to read all your books! Beverly Polley-Augente
@bvlrypauge1: I left the board of one organisation after they didn’t see anything wrong in offering to carry anyone with access issues up five flights of steps rather than paying for another venue. I lost my temper, said, Hey, won’t don’t you just catapult me through the window? The worst thing? They did not understand; they thought I was being unreasonable. But years of micro- (and macro-) aggression was just too much for me that day. I rarely lose it anymore. Now I just get steely.
Thank you! 😃🌺
I wish you all the success in the world, but I’m not holding my breath. I’ve been disabled since birth and while certain things have improved, accessibility, by and large, still lags behind badly. Good luck.
@robertreynolds66: If I held my breath every time I wanted something to change I’d be long dead. I have plenty of other things to do. I’ll just do those until/unless writing programmes fix their inaccessibility. And meanwhile, who knows, perhaps some of us will come up with a workshop/retreat designed specifically for those of us with disabilities.
@Nicola Griffith: I fully understand. As I said, I hope you succeed. But I’ve been on the barricades for a long time. People just don’t see the problems unless they experience them first-hand, at least not most people. I think every architect working on designs for new construction should go around on crutches for a couple of weeks and then go in a chair, just so they can experience for themselves just what the everyday challenges are-and even that won’t totally resolve things.
This is a world designed, for the most part, by the majority for the ease and convenience of the majority.
@robertreynolds66: And yet withdrawing support will make a difference to one or two programmes, especially those that rely on the goodwill of the local writing community. Why? Money. And influence. I don’t feel as though I’m tilting at windmills here; some change is possible. It will, of course, take time…
Well said! I’ve been on a few writing programmes in the past, one venue (long since folded IIRC) was definitely non-accessible (upstairs accomodation), the other does have an accessible bedroom, but that’s only one out of 15.
Yes! Agreed. Well said too!
@DavidG, @Zan: Thank you. I’ve been patient, but life is short. Now it’s time to to stop talking and start doing, and ask that others do, too.
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