Accessibility is a Living and Breathing Thing (part 1)

Hello Reader,

I would like to begin by introducing myself. My name is Kayla Carter and I am the Accessibility Coordinator here at Xenia Concerts. I am proud to announce that we at Xena Concerts will be doing a bi-monthly blog that will focus on various topics surrounding accessibility, disability, performing arts, and their intersections.

This is the first of a three-part blog series focusing on this topic. For the first blog, I will be focusing on accessibility as a living and breathing thing and how this affects the lived experience of disabled and/or neurodivergent people. First, we must be all on the same page about the  definition of accessibility. 

Accessibility: Accessibility refers to the design of products, devices, services, or environments for people who experience disabilities. 

Historically, accessibility is in a state of constant transformation. When we look at what counted as accessibility 10 years ago, it is very different from the accessibility that we have today. So you can imagine how much it has changed in the past 100 years! However, the one consistent thing amongst all forms of accessibility across time is the fact that accessibility is not understood as stagnant. Accessibility is something that is, and must be, in a constant state of growth.

Ultimately, this points to the importance of intersectionality. Intersectionality is a concept created by Kimberly Krenshaw to better understand the layered experience that someone may have based on their identity in our society. For example, a concert attendee who identifies as a woman and uses a mobility device has a very specific experience of the world because of her specific identity, and will need specific accessibility support. Intersectionality is an important concept when we think about accessibility as a living and breathing thing because it encourages us to look at society as the thing that needs to change instead of viewing the person as inherently flawed. 

I came to the understanding that accessibility is a living and breathing thing based on how my needs have continued to change as a disabled, neurodivergent, and chronically ill Black Queer Femme. When I do not treat the accessibility that I need as a living thing, I leave parts of myself behind. As I became more aware of what my needs were, I became more aware of the multitude of ways that I was not meeting my own access needs. Subsequently, I had to deal with the consequences of my own neglect. As a disabled person, to not understand accessibility as a living and breathing thing is to not understand that our needs, like our bodies, will change.  

The ongoing daily changes in someone’s needs can be demonstrated through the weather. Changes in the weather can create a variety of barriers and challenges for all people, and whether there’s a snow storm, a rain storm, or a heat wave, these barriers can vary in their intensity and their impact. Some people love the heat, whereas others have difficulty working; and snow can cause serious problems if you don’t have the right equipment or clothing. For many disabled folks, the impact of these same changes can be much greater. Changes in weather can affect whether you can use the sidewalk, whether you can leave your house, and how/if your medication works. These are nuances that can easily be glossed over if you maintain a stagnant understanding of accessibility. 

To not understand that accessibility is a living and breathing thing is to not understand our humanity. Though I have explained how this relates to the experience of being disabled, neurodivergent, and/or chronically ill, we can quickly recognize the pitfalls of not understanding accessibility as a living and breathing thing in our society as a whole. Here are some examples of what happens when we think of accessibility as static, or we try to find universal solutions for all people:

  • Stagnation leaves no room for progress (to be continued in Part 2) 
  • We will inevitably forget that accessibility must take the shape of someone’s needs (which are constantly changing) 
  • Universal design does not attend to how multifaceted accessibility is (and must be) 

Universal Design : “Universal design is design that’s usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.”  –Ron Mace

This brings us to the topic of universal design. Though universal design has historically functioned as a tool within accessibility, it does not attend to the intersectional identities and experiences of most disabled people. My experience as a disabled, neurodivergent, and chronically ill Black Queer Femme requires an understanding that accessibility is a living breathing thing, just as a neurotypical woman who is a new-comer and the caregiver for both parents, has her own unique accessibility needs. Within the confines of Universal Design, not only will parts of one’s identity be left behind, but room for a full and dynamic understanding of accessibility cannot exist. Within a more flexible and dynamic framework, there is room for a more nuanced approach.

When society as a whole has an understanding that accessibility is a living and breathing thing, we also make accessibility less about getting it right, and more about how we collectively show up and care for people in our community. An example of this is the way that neighbourhoods will come together to clean the sidewalk for members of their community who may not have the ability or capacity. This can also look like checking in on your neighbours who you have not seen in a while, despite their consistent routine. Though the above examples seem like general things we can do for our neighbours, these actions are also deeply connected to accessibility and how we understand someone’s lived experience. 

One of my favourite examples of accessibility being a living and breathing thing is the Xenia Concerts sensory table. If you have ever attended a Xenia Concert you will be very familiar with our sensory table. The sensory table functions as a space where accessibility is a living and breathing thing because audience members can decide for themselves what their access needs are in the moment. Accessibility needs change from moment to moment and our sensory table provides room to choose the sensory tool that meets your needs, regardless of how many times your needs shift within your one-hour concert experience. 

Additional Information

This is part 1 of a 3-part blog series on this topic. In addition to blog entries, there will also be interviews, resource sharing and much more to come. Stay tuned! I am so excited to continue this conversation with the wider Xenia Concerts community. 

Stay in touch! Comment, subscribe, and please share this article if it resonates with you. If you have a suggestion for a topic that we should cover, or reactions to this blog article, don’t hesitate to contact me at