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.