Glittering with AccessibilityVirtual Events Pave the Way for a More Inclusive Pride

A Black woman serves a slice of cake with rainbow layers and sprinkles while wearing compression gloves. (Photo credit: Chona Kasinger/Disabled and Here)
 

Since 2020 is the 50th anniversary of Pride, many had planned to honor the occasion with major celebratory events, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year will surely be different than past ones. Pride events have been postponed or turned into virtual events. While the loss of an in-person Pride celebration is a loss for the LGBTQ community that spends all year looking forward to attending these events, virtual Pride has the potential to leave a lasting positive mark on the event—by making it accessible to the disability community for the first time.

Historically, Pride events have been inaccessible to disabled people in myriad ways, from failing to employ sign-language interpreters and hosting events in spaces that aren’t wheelchair accessible to not having a fragrance-free policy. The events are also not always welcoming to people of color, undocumented immigrants, and religious minorities, due to a heavy police presence, or to sober folks who are tired of how alcohol-heavy queer events can be. When these events aren’t accessible to everyone, an entire community of LGBTQ people are left out of honoring the history of Pride.

Most years, I debate about whether or not to go to my local Pride event, which usually has limited disability seating and can be hard to navigate as a cane user with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. I’m proud to be queer and disabled, and my favorite color is glitter, so I want to show up at Pride to honor the activists who came before me and show young LGBTQ disabled folks that they have every right to be and love who they are. It’s inaccessibility that stops me, making me question whether these celebrations were designed with people like me in mind. This year’s massive shift to virtual Pride events presents a hopeful future in which organizers can learn how to actively commit to accessibility.

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Don’t Rush to Celebrate In-Person

For those planning to reschedule their Pride events, it’s important not to jump at the chance to celebrate in-person as soon as your local area has lifted restrictions that allow you to do so. Hosting your Pride event while the pandemic is still happening, even if your state has removed any restrictions on large gatherings, makes it unsafe for high-risk people to attend, including disabled and elderly people who have the right to celebrate with their community. Going ahead with an event while it’s still unsafe for high-risk folks to attend tells the disability community that you don’t really care whether they’re present or not, and it’s up to them to risk their lives to come or stay at home while everyone else gathers in the streets wearing rainbows.

Build Accessibility In from the Start

As Pride organizers look toward the future, events (that can take place when it’s truly safe to gather in large groups) need to be accessible, which means hosting ones that aren’t strictly just parades, creating a disability seating section, hiring interpreters, setting aside dedicated sensory-friendly and low-noise spaces, having a strict fragrance- and smoking-free policy, and offering a service-animal relief area. When I attend book events at local bookstores, I email the accessibility coordinator to ask about reserving seats since I’m unable to attend a standing-room-only event and to see whether it’s possible to get my book signed without waiting in line for hours. These accommodations make it possible for me to enjoy even the most popular, in-demand author events. An accessibility contact for Pride could be similarly beneficial to the disability community, helping bridge the gap so that individual access needs can be met and everyone who wants to attend is able to do so.

Organizers for any virtual events need to do the work of making the event accessible for everyone; accessibility doesn’t just matter offline. Instead, organizers should plan in advance to offer live captioning and sign-language interpreters, to completely avoid flashing or strobing animation during the events, and to ensure the event is accessible to augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) users. This Rooted in Rights guide to virtual event accessibility is a good place to start, and every virtual event should have at least one point person handling accessibility who can answer questions about access needs, provide detailed accessibility information for guests, and make it possible for them to request specific accommodations. Even if the event you’re organizing is informal, accessibility is critical and should be integral to the planning from the start.

The 50th anniversary of Pride is the perfect time for radical inclusion.

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Organize a Wider Range of Events

Going forward, if those in charge of virtual components of Pride events prioritize accessibility, these events will be more accessible to people who can’t attend in person. And this is possible for a wide range of events. If an organizer is hosting a Pride slam poetry festival, they could livestream the festival (with captioning and interpreters) so that folks can participate from anywhere, even if they can’t make it in person, and record the event so that it can be watched later. Normalizing virtual events alongside in-person events creates a more inclusive space for everyone: Someone who can’t afford the cost of transportation to attend Pride or who can’t find childcare or doesn’t want to bring their young kids to the parade can also join in on the celebration. Virtual events are more accessible for some and in-person events are for others, so it’s important to have both options.

More Inclusive Hiring is Always a Good Start

Pride organizers also need to consider who is on their team and whether they have disabled people, people of color, trans and nonbinary people, fat folks, and religious and cultural minorities helping them plan events and organize movements. Are there disabled people represented in their leadership? Is disability an afterthought or are there disabled people there from the beginning, making decisions and influencing policy? Organizers need to actively challenge their internalized biases, add people from underrepresented groups to their team, and advocate for all marginalized people.

To Pride organizers everywhere, virtual and beyond: Show up for the disability community and make accessibility a priority from now on. The 50th anniversary of Pride is the perfect time to focus on becoming radically inclusive and create a Pride that everyone can enjoy.

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Alaina Leary is the communications manager for We Need Diverse Books. She teaches courses in Emerson College’s graduate department of Publishing, Literature, and Writing. Her work has been published in New York Times, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Refinery29, Allure, Healthline, Glamour, The Oprah Magazine, and more. She currently lives just outside Boston with her wife and their two literary cats. Follow her @AlainasKeys on Instagram and Twitter.