DIY Community and Accessibility

What DIY?

As I started writing for DIYabled, I was getting asked by a lot of folks what is DIY? The acronym stands for Do It Yourself and while a DIY movement has a lot of history, the term itself can really refer to anything from remodeling homes to fixing your own bike. When I talk about it, I am referring to the DIY ethic that has existed in the underground music scene. It was an ethos that had its beginnings in the 1970s as a way for bands to bypass the corporate mainstream industry by, you guessed it, Doing It Yourself. Over the last 50 years, this DIY ethos has grown from the art/punk music scene to what we see today. All genres, from intimate folk shows to electronic dance parties to experimental music, have turned to the DIY ethos as a means to develop an opportunity to make music and play for the people who helped create it.

Why DIY?

I was fortunate to part of a group of folks in the 90s that worked together to set up an infrastructure for bands to tour, put out records and actually play their music for an audience! We lived in the south and wanted to play our music and share our art there and beyond. We did not fit into the mainstream at the time so we created our own spaces: houses, basements, even the outdoors. No places were off limits. With a generator and some speakers a show could be created just about anywhere. It was a community we created ourselves for ourselves. DIY is about community. And without a community, we are alone.


Why think about accessibility?

People Living with Disabilities (PLD) make up the largest minority in the world. It’s been reported that there were about 57 million PLD in 2010 in the U.S. alone. As a community, if you are not thinking about accessibility, you are excluding a huge group of people. Any group of individuals that understands the true meaning of the DIY ethic also understands that without it, this minority could not live. Because most people I meet have no idea what accessibility means exactly, I decided to make this zine to give some tips about DIY accessibility.

How to know or make your space is accessible?

Due to the nature of DIY, accessibility is a huge issue. But this does not mean that you can’t try to make your space PLD friendly if not completely PLD accessible. What that means is PLD can get in and out of a space to enjoy an event, even if they may not be able to use the bathroom or parts of your space are not completely accessible.

The space. Wide open spaces with with no obstacles like record shelves or garbage cans in the way.

The entrance. If it is completely ground level, perfect. If there are stairs, build a ramp. There are lots of DIY wheelchair ramp tutorials on YouTube. The ADA requires a ramp ratio of 1:20, so for every inch of height, you need 20 inches of length for the ramp. A step that is 3 inches would require 5 feet or 60 inches of ramp. This is not always possible to do with the amount of space available so if you have to, just make a steeper ramp. Do it! Having a ramp will allow any person in a wheelchair to access your space. If it is too steep you can always use our greatest resource, humans, to help push the wheelchair up the ramp.

Doors. The ADA requires door widths to be at least 32 inches. If your door width is a bit smaller, that is fine because that width is for an average wheelchair to fit through the doors. Some people have wheelchairs that are smaller than 32 inches and some that are larger.

Bathrooms. The biggest challenge. ADA has specifics and from my experiences, DIY spaces rarely have accessible bathrooms. A door that is actually wide enough is required but if the wheelchair can actually get in and the person can get to the toilet, having grab bar would help. You can purchase them at your local hardware store and they’re really cheap!

In reality every space cannot be accessible. When a space is having an event, informing people in advance about whether or not they can get in is another way to include the people of your community. An easy way to do this is displaying an accessible symbol if your space is PLD accessible. This is a symbol saying that you are PLD friendly, please contact for specifics. You can also put up an accessible symbol with a line through it if your space is completely inaccessible. Disability comes in so many shapes and sizes that you should always offer contact information so if PLD are intrested they can make 100% sure they can get in. These small gestures of consideration are important because there is nothing more heartbreaking than watching all of your able bodied peers walk into an inaccessible space.

A Job That is Never Done !

As 2017 unfolded, it forced me to think about our history as Americans. Sure, in school I learned a few things about women’s suffrage, slavery, and Martin Luther King Jr, but if we stepped back and took a closer look at America’s history, civil rights was not the popular idea as is seen today.

Black men were allowed to vote in the United States in 1870, before women of any color, but barriers like literacy tests, grandfather causes, and the poll taxes prevented most black men from voting. The voting rights act was not passed until 1965, 95 years after black men were allowed to vote. This new law made sure that every person (women, people of religious minorities, Latinos, People Living with Disabilties, LGBTQ identifying, and whites) are allowed to vote in the United States.

When you’re born into a generation when these rights already exist, it seems so strange to imagine that at one time, we voluntarily chose to let only Christian white men vote. Somehow it makes you think these rights were acquired overnight but they were not! When we look at where we are today and we see the discrimination due to religion, race, gender, sexual preference/identity, and ability, we should not be surprised.

Civil rights was something that we accomplished as a country on paper; however, we did not really continue fighting for it as a whole society. Instead, discrimination was shrouded in silence. We have laws in place to prevent these discriminations but a woman may still not get a job because of her gender or if she reveals that she is interested in having a family with children. Another person may not get a job because of the color of their skin. This is all due to the personal or corporate secret discriminations. Employment is merely one area where we see discrimination in modern times.

Let’s look at voting. How much different is the discrimination that exists between then and now? Representatives gerrymander their districts, effectively choosing their constituents rather than having the people choose who they want to represent them. This suppresses the votes of the very people to whom we have given the rights. This is done in a much more covert way than having things like literacy tests or poll taxes which was obviously meant to keep black or poor men from voting. So when we turn to our modern “It’s not my fault” mentality, we somehow feel that these rights are things we born with, not something people had to fight for and fight hard. When immediate justice is not served, we want to look to others for blame: the poor, the uneducated, the Russians. But when we step back and truly look at the history of discrimination in the United States, we can see that not only has it existed, but we can also see the people that have been discriminated against who continuously fought for their rights  whether their actions quite often failed more than succeeded. Yet despite the failures, these people still got up and spoke their minds. They essentially became the thorns poking continuously in the sides of the people who were suppressing their rights. And all this was done in a world where getting a another person to listen about civil rights seemed anything short of being a miracle. So when we see discrimination and do nothing except complain about its existence on our social media while 20 of our friends hit the “like” button, are we really moving forward? Or will we need actual human action to express how important our rights are to us?

It is true that we have been tested this year as to what our beliefs are as Americans. To spite this, we must not forget the generations before us fought and fought hard to make sure we have the rights we all deserve. When you are feeling overwhelmed by the injustice you see, step away from the news, social media, and opinion blogs and look to your right and then to your left. Look at the people around you and remember no matter who see — a woman, a queer, a Latino family, a family of mixed race, or a person with a walker — just remember there were so many people before whom not only fought but gave their lives for these the rights we enjoy so far. Discrimination will never be completely extinguished. When any person is being marginalized, we are accountable to make our voices heard, to stand up for them, and to forever continue this fight that was so bravely started for us a very long time ago.

Roll a Mile in My Shoes

Living in a society that does not truly welcome you can be disheartening. I certainly don’t except everything I talk about here to change overnight but I do hope there can be more awareness at how our actions or inactions can affect those around us. After becoming paralyzed, I knew the landscape of my life would be changed forever. Learning to maneuver physically in an able-centric world has obviously been but achievable. Although difficult, this was to be expected. What really surprised and frustrated me was how my physical disability isolated me socially, how I am regarded or disregarded when I am out in the world would affect me on a much more fundamental, emotional level. Of course, it’s hard for others to imagine each and every way a person can come to feel isolated by a single act on their part and I understand that not all of the ways I am treated are purposeful or done with knowledge or malice. These observations are about some of the ways people’s awareness can be raised to comprehend what living with a disability is like from a first-hand perspective.

The lack of independence and spontaneous transportation for PLD creates the phenomenon of forced intimacy. We are forced to reach out to our community so we are not isolated but reaching out is not always easy. It changes the dynamic of your relationships with your family and friends. It forces you to reveal things about yourself that you don’t really feel comfortable sharing and turns the dynamic of that relationship to one of sympathy and dependence, rather than helping and assisting. Let’s look at some of the ways this manifests.

Transportation, either public or private, is important for everyone to have access to so they can go to work or socialize. For the most part, transportation is ability centric. Let’s consider public transportation as private transportation tends not only to be cost-prohibitive but, when a specialized vehicle is needed, you can’t just hail any old taxi going down the street. In larger urban areas like New York City, if you are able bodied, you have access to any train or bus available and can go anywhere you need to at almost any time. But what happens when you need an elevator to get on a train? Instead of there being one at every station, you only have access at select stations and those may not be anywhere close to where you need to end up. If you then need to use a bus, many of which are wheelchair accessible but often overcrowded, you had better hope there is space on it and those occupying the front section are willing, without resentment, to give up their seats.

When I lived in the Bay Area, The BART, while definitely one of the more accessible public transportation systems, even so there is a lot of room for improvement. Oftentimes I would try to enter or exit a train platform only to find the out of order sign on the station’s elevator. With no prior notice at any point of my trip. I would then be forced to get off the train, find out the lift is broken, get back on, ride to the next station, get off, and ride back in the opposite direction to use the elevator on the other side of the original station where I intended to disembark in the first place. Suddenly, your trip became twice as long, and ten times as frustrating, as the commute of an able bodied person.

Then there is the issue of sidewalks. Some cities do not have proper sidewalks that everyone (able or not) can use to travel safely to their destination. If sidewalks do exist, there may not be curb cuts or, if there are, they are extremely damaged and impossible to use as intended. At times I must roll in the street and use the bike lanes (if they are around) to get up the street because aside from there not being any curb cuts, I cannot use the sidewalks themselves at all if they are in great disrepair. I am unable to share sidewalks with pedestrians and am sometimes in the way of bicyclists or unsafe near traffic. This creates a sense of both being in the way and not belonging to either world.

A lack of space is another way PLD are isolated. It’s been a trend over the past 2 decades for restaurants or performance spaces to open that are often too small for a wheelchair. In these places, PLD are forced to ask complete strangers to make room so you can get to your table. Sometimes your chair is so big that you are invading their space, forcing the dynamic of social interaction into one in which PLD feel like they have to apologize for their presence and the able bodied feel inconvenienced for having to accommodate them. The grocery store is another environment where PLD are forced to have to ask complete strangers for assistance to reach a product, taste a sample, or even just get through an aisle that is not wide enough. (The original Berkely Bowl in Berkeley, CA and Greenlife in Asheville, NC are two incredibly inaccessible examples). Navigating an aisle filled with able bodied people can be quite a task in and of itself not to mention the social skills needed to ask people who are not paying attention to you to move so you can get what you want.

My last observation is focused on simple awareness and mindfulness. I find that in most cases, able bodied people unintentionally cause feelings of social isolation for PLD without even realizing they are doing it. I remember one of the first times friends isolated me without any realization. It was in a park for someone’s birthday. Everybody that was celebrating was sitting on a little pavilion that had a step. Being in a wheelchair, I couldn’t access where everybody was so I sat alone, isolated from the party. Nothing is more depressing than sitting by yourself as you watch all your friends gather in a space that is completely inaccessible to you, enjoying each other’s company without even a second of awareness that the only thing that prevented you from socializing with them was simply a step. It’s sometimes the littlest things that can get in our way and make us feel disconnected from others.

What PLD must endure everyday socially is so detrimental to their state mind. We as a society must recognize, accept, and acknowledge how we ignore, forget, or are completely unaware about how we could be isolating PLD. Then we will be on our way to living in a place that is really inclusive.