Guidelines Ensure Accessibility For All

by Guest Writers Joanne Tosti-Vasey and Susan Turner

Editors note: This is the second in a series of stories from the Disability Rights Committee.

To understand and define disability rights as a feminist issue, the National Disability Rights Committee's first goal is to ensure the full participation of women with disabilities in all levels of NOWs activities.

"Access" is a critical concern for everyone, whether based on sex, race, sexual orientation, disability status or other factors. The National Organization for Women first acknowledged the need for accessibility in 1978, when a resolution stated that all future NOW meetings shall provide barrier-free facilities, assistance for the blind and interpreters for the deaf.

In 1992, the Disability Rights Conference Implementation Committee was established to educate members about women with disabilities. In 1995, delegates voting at the National Conference passed the Disability Rights Education resolution, which requires education on accessibility and disability rights at all levels of the organization.

The Americans with Disabilities Act defines disability as "a limitation or interference with daily life activities, such as hearing, speaking, seeing, walking, moving, thinking, breathing and learning." These include both the obvious and the invisible disabilities, such as allergies, arthritis, back problems, cancer, developmental disabilities, epilepsy, heart and respiratory problems and psychiatric problems. People with disabilities include people who are deaf or hearing impaired, blind or visually impaired, orthopedically impaired, mentally ill or mentally retarded.

Providing Accessibility

The national organization, regions, states and chapters are committed to making their meetings, public programs and materials reachable for and useable by all. Since there is a wide variety of people with disabilities, chapters will endeavor to do some general things at meetings and then, upon request, provide additional services as needed.

All meetings are smoke free. Smoke-free meetings allow people with respiratory disabilities and smoke allergies to attend meetings. A smoking area may be outdoors or in an area of the building that isn't a main traffic area to and from the meetings, next to the elevator or in a hallway adjacent to the meeting room entrance.

Special Materials, Services

If members have low vision or are blind, ask how they would like to receive their written materials. Some people need only large print. Others prefer receiving their material on audio tapes. If a computer is available, large print can be created by changing the font size in the word processing program to the font size requested by the person with low vision.

Audio taping basically means that you read the material into a tape recorder and give the tape to the person needing it. The National NOW Times, except the catalog sales material, is available on audio tape. Members can receive their NNT via tape by writing to: Print Handicapped Services, 519 E. Main St., #8, Spartanburg, S.C. 29302. Other materials from National NOW can be placed on audio tape if requested or can be provided in large print. National NOW has purchased a "talking" computer that will provide access to large print and audio materials for National Conferences and state/regional NOW conferences on a first-come, first-served basis.

NOW also provides access to people who are deaf or hearing impaired. All public programs organized at any level of NOW should have a sign language interpreter signing the speeches. Chapters should announce that sign interpreters will be available at meetings, if requested in advance. An interpreter then must be hired or a volunteer obtained. Signers for conferences also need to be available on an individual basis. Generally, you will need more than one interpreter to allow the interpreters to rotate their work, as this is a very intensive and tiring service.

A good source for interpreters and other information on accommodations for people with disabilities is your local Center for Independent Living. Centers are consumer-run agencies for people with disabilities, and they generally have a large database to assist the public. Local social service hot lines, the Easter Seal Society, county/state offices for people with disabilities, or local university offices for students with disabilities are other good resources for information.

There are also special disability-sensitive access issues that chapters should consider. When planning a conference, hold meals at a definite time. This allows individuals with diabetes and other metabolic disorders to plan their days for health and safety. Selecting a conference site near a variety of restaurants provides individuals with food allergies a chance to select food they can consume.

Having a "mobile scooter," such as an Amigo, available for rental by conference attendees would also be useful. These three-wheeled, chair-type, battery-operated scooters can be used by individuals who cannot handle the walking distance involved with a large conference, including frail individuals, people who have had leg surgery or a broken leg, people with Crohn's disease or arthritis whose illness suddenly flares up, or people with the fatigue of multiple sclerosis or HIV/AIDS.

The Disability Rights CIC is working on accessibility materials and recommendations for states and chapters. If you have any information that you would like to include, please call Joanne Tosti-Vasey, chair of the CIC, at 814-355-3056, or mail the materials to the Disability Rights CIC, NOW, 733 15th Street NW, 2nd Floor, Washington, D.C. 20005.

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