(In)Accessibility & Covid-19

TL;DR – we must make sure our society is as accessible as possible, and the bi+ community must keep organising online socials and events post-lockdown.


For many different reasons, the wider world was out of reach to a lot of people before the lockdown. Most buildings and public transport are not accessible. A disability or chronic health condition might keep someone at home. Someone might have caring responsibilities. Or things simply cost too much. Over 20% of the UK’s population lives in poverty.

All of the above issues affect bi+ people disproportionately.

Everyone’s experience of lockdown has been different, but for many the world has been brought within reach as services and entertainment move online. Flexible hours and home working become normalised as workplaces are closed.

But for those who don’t use the Internet or can’t afford it, what then as more and more things move online, often permanently, during the pandemic?

It makes me angry when people praise how innovative we have been and how well we have adapted to the current situation. Nearly all of these things could have easily been done before – if the awareness and the willingness to do it had been there!! So many people have been denied access to work or been forced to leave because companies refuse to offer flex or home working. So many couldn’t study because universities offered no alternatives to face-to-face learning, and penalised those who couldn’t attend every single lecture. And so many couldn’t socialise because friends and family never thought to hang out online before.

I’m angry with myself too. I set up and ran a group for bi+ people in Nottingham several years ago. I tried to be as inclusive as possible, for example I visited every single venue in the city centre in order to find an accessible one to host the socials. Yet I never even realised I could have held meet ups online for those who couldn’t attend in person. It seems so obvious now. I’m sorry to those I let down.

I’m angry at my governent. Their failings mean that a lot of people have died needlessly and continue to do so. They are doing a piss poor job of making the right things accessible to the people that need them. For example, food to those shielding, or having a sign language interpreter at daily press briefings. I celebrate and value the innovative ways individuals and charities pick up the pieces. I just worry because I doubt the government will take responsibility and put that infrastructure in place going forwards. They will force others to keep providing so they can keep the money in their hands. (When compared to similar countries, the UK has one of the biggest gaps between the richest and the poorest.)

As the lockdown is lifted over the coming months, I’m worried about the impact our socially distanced world will have if we don’t plan properly. Do pub chains really have to fix chairs to the floors in order to re-open? Can’t they just trust people instead, so that anyone who needs to move the chair (i.e because they’re on wheels) can? If the hard of hearing can’t understand what someone is saying behind a mask and a plastic screen, are alternatives being put in place to help people communicate?

In finding our ‘new normal’ we must not forget what we gained from this horrific pandemic. Employers must continue to offer home working where possible. And people must push back if companies try to take it away again!! Services and entertainment must keep some kind of home based alternative in mind for those who can’t attend in person. And we must remember this and we must push back if they start to forget in the future!!

What about the bi+ community? I think in the past it has left out those who couldn’t attend events in person and those based in rurual areas – but we have a chance to remedy this. It is our duty to keep organising online socials and events post-lockdown, and figure out ways to include anyone this format will not reach.

Workshop Outline: Coming Out

In April I presented a workshop at London BiFest. I wanted to share my notes on here so that anyone who is thinking about running a session at an event can use this as a resource or a place to get ideas.

The first thing I did was write an outline for the session guide which had to be submitted in advance. You can see the guide from London BiFest 2017 here, but for convenience I’ve copied mine below.

 

“14:30 – 15:30 Session 2A: Coming Out

Facilitator: Hannah Bee.

A facilitated group discussion on everything to do with coming out.

Do you let other people know about your sexuality? Why, why not? Should you? Is it safe to? What are the pros and cons of each option? In addition to the above we will also look at the bi specific issues surrounding coming out (or being unable to), swap tips, and share our own experiences.”

 

For a discussion based workshop there isn’t really a lot preparation involved which makes this the ideal format for the time strapped individual. The day before BiFest I wrote out some notes and mentally planned how I would arrange the room. (Chairs in a circle or horseshoe shape.)

On the day I packed some whiteboard markers, blue tak, and spare paper as you never know when these items might run out or go missing!

 

My outline looked like this:

  1. Introduction
  2. Explain how the workshop will run: I’ll lead a guided discussion
  3. Explain the ground rules. E.g. no interrupting, respect everyone’s opinions and experiences, give everyone a chance to speak. Ask the room if they want to add anything?
  4. Explain that I would like people to use three ‘discussion gestures’. A raised hand means someone would like to say something. Holding both hands in front of you in a fist with the index fingers raised and wiggling means you have something to add, but it relates to what has just been said so you need to speak next. Turning hands back and forth (a bit like Beyonce’s putting a ring on it) is sign language for applause and allows people to express agreement and/or solidarity without interrupting.
  5. Do a show of hands asking who’s mostly/completely out, somewhat out, or barely/not at all out. (This allows me to tailor the workshop to who has come that day.)
  6. Work through questions on flipchart (see below).
  7. End on sharing coming out tips/positive stories.
  8. Wrap up. Thank everyone for coming. Let people know that if the workshop has had an emotional impact, I am available outside if anyone wants to talk more. Encourage people to get a drink and a snack. Give out contact details. Promote any events I’m doing in future (in this case The Big Bi Fun Day).

Before the workshop started I wrote a list of questions on the flipchart. I find this works very well for discussion based workshops as it helps people settle in and reduces feelings of anxiety or awkwardness. This is because it shows people what to expect and gives them time to think of things to say. It also gives them something to do whilst they wait, plus people can break the ice by talking about it if they want to.

It’s also a lifeline for me, as it saves me from painful silence when I throw a question to the room and no one replies!

 

What I wrote on the flipchart:

Things to think about whilst waiting:

  • Are you out?
  • Why/Why not?
  • If you’ve come out to someone, what kin of reactions have they had?
  • How do you deal with coming out (or correcting) over and over again?
  • How do you deal with negative reactions?
    (Both emotionally and in dealing with the other person.)
  • What advice would you give others?

 

I had expected about 10-15 people to attend so was rather surprised to find 24 faces sitting and looking at me. This made me worry that some wouldn’t get a chance to speak and that the layout wouldn’t work as instead of 1 circle we had a 2 row horseshoe to fit everyone in. Thankfully the gestures made the workshop flow perfectly. And when someone gave visual applause out of eyesight of the person speaking I just mentioned it to them which got around the layout problem.

After the workshop I said I would post the coming out advice people gave on this blog. You can find this in a separate post here. Sorry it’s so late!

Finally Written by Jenny did a lovely write up of my workshop in their blog post about London Bifest 2017 so I would like to thank them for their kind words.