At work, our members have developed a newsletter that is published on a quarterly basis. It is written and produced, with some assistance, by the self advocates at Vita. It's name, Vita Member Times, came after a fairly heated debate and a agency wide vote in which a significant number of members lined up to cast the ballot. There is a lot of ownership over the newsletter and its contents. The pieces are all written by our members in plain language and the stories and articles make for engaging reading. It was clear that the members (the word chosen by our self advocates for us to use in place of the word 'client' which they asked us to cease using) wanted to be informed about the life and work of the agency and of the activities of the self advocate group.
All this to introduce a new project which I have just learned about. It seems that a study has been undertaken about the accessibility of news and political information for people with intellectual disabilities. It's the first study of its kind that I am aware of and what it made clear was that we have to really broaden our understanding of accessibility. Plain language is an accessibility issue as important as ramps. Barrier free should mean more than level entrances it should allow mean a level playing field. The outcome of this study is work towards the creation of a plain language newspaper for people with intellectual disabilities.
I read this article just before being asked to comment on some new legislation. I grit my teeth and set about reading the legislation. The language was so far over my head that I had to stop and read and reread and reread what was being said. When I figured it out it kind of angered me that something which could have been simply stated was presented with convoluted language. It made me wonder exactly who they were tyring to 'keep out' of the discussion and debate. I have to admit if I didn't have to read it, I would have given up completely in my attempt.
I thought of all the times that Joe and I have done rights workshops and bullying workshops and abuse prevention workshops for people with disabilities and in those workshops we've heard people with disabilities discussing the news and the world they live in. They were interested and had a desire to be informed, even though it took a lot of work.
In fact I remember when the Clinton scandal broke and was all over the news. The American press were scandalized while we Canadian thought to ourselves - "Really, you care?" Most of us don't even know the Prime Minister's wife's name. By the by, this is not because we are poorly informed, it's because we don't care all that much about Steven, or any of his predecessors like Jean, or Joe, Kim,or Pierre's private life. Anyways back to the Clinton scandal.
I was setting up to do a workshop on rights for people with disabilities in a gorgeous old mansion that had been donated to the host agency. We were all meeting in a living room almost the size of my pad here in Toronto. The self advocates were talking animatedly about the news about Clinton and Lewinsky. One of them said, and I'm paraphrasing from memory, "I need more information. We all know that it's wrong to have sex at work. We know it's OK to have sex at home in private. Since the president lives in the White House and works in the White House, I want to know if he touched her while he was in his office or while he was in a bedroom. If it was his office, what he did was wrong. If it was in a bedroom it's no one's business but Hillary's."
No better discussion of the issues did I hear in the media.
Anyways, I ask you to take a look at the infographic that asks if people with intellectual disabilities are left out of political debate. I found it interesting and I hope you do too. Make sure you make it to the bottom where they present several ideas for making information more readable. I'd be interested in hearing how you think we can all ensure that when we think about accessibility, we broaden the meaning of that word to mean ... accessibility.