What do you do when you’ve been invited to an inaccessible event?

First, I’ll admit that I’m inconsistent in how I respond.

Today’s incident: My department at work had a picnic. I’d forgotten about it until it popped up on my calendar at work. I briefly thought about calling the department secretary, because it seemed very likely that it would be inaccessible (“by the tennis courts” = grassy, hilly area, no paved access). But then I thought, “To hell with that, I’ve been here for 8 years, my department’s not that large, if the administration can’t manage to remember my existence…”

So I went over there, with a couple of other people. We looked at the curb, the grass, the hill, the people in the distance enjoying their hot dogs and burgers in the 50 degree chill. “Want me to pop you over the curb?” one of my companions asked.

“No, I think I’ll skip it since it’s not accessible,” I replied, and went off to have lunch somewhere warmer.

What would you have done? I encourage you to leave a comment as well, saying why you make the choice you do.



  1. wheelchairdancer

    I try and go, unless its really impossible. BUT if the event has any kind of disability focus, I make a big, big fuss. ANd may stay away on principle.


  2. cripchick

    it matters who organized it —

    some spaces i am there not to be in the front (e.g. umoja festival, for instance) and to bring inaccessibility to light feels like it would be acting on entitlement/my privilege (which happens so much in disability community). though i would support someone else who that space is for in finding the language to do so.

    with other things, it matters to what degree the organizers are trying. if my friends have an inaccessible venue but have made makeshift ramps, i will go. if they say “we did not plan but will carry you up 2 flights of stairs!!!” i don’t go.
    .-= Latest from cripchick : ableism & the unique constellation of individual lives =-.

  3. Mitch

    Good question Katja. Of course the answer is “depends,” but here are some of the things I think about. My mother was a quadriplegic since I was 5 years old, and I’ve been a wheelchair user due to MS for the past 2 years, so I’ve dealt with this issue for most of my life.

    My mother’s position was to never draw attention to herself. Enjoy the things that are accessible, but don’t complain about things that are not. To her credit, she did accept help in terms of people carrying her up stairs and across lawns, etc.

    When I am invited to an inaccessible event, or for that matter when I encounter inaccessibility in public, for the most part I want to speak up about it. This is not so much to protest or to embarrass others, but to educate them. Ignorance, not malice, is usually at play.

    Yet I do hear my late mother’s voice in my head sometimes. Be humble. Don’t complain. Don’t be a bother. And that voice does influence me some. But, for the most part, when I encounter inaccessibility, I politely shed light on it. I often accept unusual assistance, but sometimes it’s just too much to bear.

  4. Katja

    Thoughtful comments, thank you!

    I see problems with both approaches. If you allow others to get you in, then people who see you there (possibly including the organizer or organizers) will think, “Oh, there she is – it’s obviously no problem for her to get in | get to the food | participate in whatever it is.”

    If you leave, unless you make a fuss, there’s the chance nobody will even know you were excluded.

  5. fridawrites

    I am very torn. It probably depends on context–who’s involved. If it’s a group that should know, it really hurts me. I don’t want to sound demanding and asking after something’s been organized (sometimes I don’t realize something will be planned or that others didn’t think about access) feels really awkward to me. At the same time, I want to be included badly if it’s something I can attend since I can’t get out hardly at all.

    But I can’t assume that a 400-pound chair is welcome wrecking up someone’s carpet or threshold or grass. And I do know some people who don’t want me at functions because a wheelchair user doesn’t fit with their notions of nouveau riche “class,” nor does my mentally disabled uncle. So asking for accommodation feels doubly awkward.

    What results is initially half-hearted emotions oscillating wildly between “don’t say anything” and “speak up” until I experience fury or depression, depending.

    I can’t say that I’m consistent. Getting help in front of an audience for some things is humiliating for me.
    .-= Latest from fridawrites: Coming Soon to a Theater Near You… =-.

  6. fridawrites

    I mean, it should be darn well obvious to your coworkers that they need to include you. If someone is new to event planning, it may not occur to them that they’re the one who needs to check wheelchair access–but someone else needs to point that out to them. I sure hope someone did on your behalf afterwards.

    I was proud of my sister recently–she did speak up and ask someone if she needed accommodations for a camping event–a mom with severe arthritis, who, though not a wheelchair user, might need some assistance.
    .-= Latest from fridawrites: Coming Soon to a Theater Near You… =-.

  7. Penelope

    It depends on situation really and my expectations going into it. For example, I’m much more likely to overlook an access fail in Europe when traveling with friends because I expect things to be less accessible and I’m more willing to do things like crawl up stairs and let my friends carry my wheelchair up to get into the really cool bar with 200+ beers (this recently happened in Belgium) there than I am in the US.

    Things like work-dos, I’ll do what you did and leave. I only had to do it once in the 2 years I was at my last job, but it made the point. And the person who’d organised it (a sales person from a vendor, but one who’d met me before and knew I was a wheelchair user) was really apologetic and the point was made.

    The biggest frustration to me was when I was in college and the school insisted on serving a several of the special event dinners outside in the middle of various greens. Every time I’d point out that it caused a separate, but equal situation for me, but they always seemed to think “but we’ve arranged for someone in dining services to take your meal order and bring it to you on the sidewalk” was acceptable. This improved when I got a scooter because it handled grass well enough for me to manage my own food, but was really frustrating before then. And I couldn’t really say “well, I’ll not bother with your special meal then” because the only other option was ordering food delivered and paying for it myself rather than having the nice meal that I’d already paid for since I was on the dining plan.

  8. Katja (Post author)

    I hear you, Penelope (and welcome, and thanks for commenting). I, too, have the ‘separate but equal’ problem at work – and they’re so pleased with themselves for coming up with this accommodation! Makes me feel churlish to point out the problems with it.

    So often we think it must be so obvious that an event needs to be accessible – I’m surprised over and over again to find that while I’m obsessing about how I’m going to get into something, it never even crosses the organizers’ minds. I shouldn’t be (surprised), but I am.


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