Making DSA More Accessible

By Mark Alper

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 expanded the scope of accessibility beyond state and federal programs to include obligations for compliance by the private sector. Private membership groups such as DSA are exempted from the requirement to comply with the law, but as a democratic socialist organization committed to the expansion of democracy, we should be pro-active in making our meetings and activities welcoming to people with disabilities. Creativity and openness to experimentation will aid this process. Start by asking your comrades who are differently abled what they need from you.

Here are some suggestions as well as examples of how DSA chapters are dealing with accessibility. For instance, every chapter hopes to hold its meetings in free space, but with some searching, the chapter may also find accessible space. Austin DSA, for example, uses the public library, which has accessible parking. Meetings in private homes are often not accessible, but union halls and community centers should be. Public cafés are an option as long as the obligation to buy something is not onerous to members.

Let’s say that a deaf individual wants to attend a meeting of the DSA chapter and requests a sign language interpreter. The chapter doesn’t have the financial resources to pay for an interpreter. An alternative solution would be to look for volunteers or ask the individual to bring an interpreter to the meeting. Because sign language interpretation is very demanding, this may mean more breaks in the meeting. If no interpreter is available, someone might be able to write a summary of what is happening on a laptop, and communication could occur through writing. At the least, reserved seating should be held for people who have hearing difficulties. Notices of meetings can ask about accessibility issues.

If there is an educational meeting that involves a PowerPoint presentation, a visually impaired person might ask for a recording of the presentation in order to be able to refer back to it as a sighted person would to notes. An ally can be named to be with someone at a demonstration, especially if civil disobedience is planned. Barbara Joye of Metro Atlanta DSA recalls that members volunteered to read proposed resolutions and national and local newsletters as well as readings for study groups to a blind member.

Members who have speech impairments resulting from strokes or conditions such as Parkinson’s should not have to feel that they won’t be heard because others are impatient for them to finish a thought.

YDS co-chair Andee Sunderland notes that the Sacramento DSA is also aware that individuals have “invisible disabilities, like anxiety disorders, depression, learning disabilities, etc. I think [making the chapter accessible] relies on building a pretty tight community where you have an idea of what people need, what their triggers might be, what sort of things they’re good at . . . so we don’t turn them off by giving them responsibilities they can’t fulfill. . . . Some people panic around crowds or cops so we try to look out for them at demos. . . . I think the best you can strive for is a group where people feel comfortable voicing their needs and boundaries, and where they are generally taken seriously.” 

Despite the advances in civil rights represented by the ADA, persons with disabilities face an ongoing struggle for essential services that are often on the chopping block by state legislatures—most particularly in the realms of housing, transportation, and education.

Mark Alper has been involved in the struggle for disability rights for 38 years.

This article originally appeared in the winter 2014 issue of the Democratic Left magazine.

Individually signed posts do not necessarily reflect the views of DSA as an organization or its leadership. Democratic Left blog post submission guidelines can be found here.

What Is DSA? Training Call

May 30, 2017
· 57 rsvps

If you're a new DSAer, have been on a new member call, but still have questions about DSA's core values/strategy/core work and how to express these ideas in an accessible way to the media, as well as to friends, family and others who might be interested in joining DSA, this call is for you. 

We will talk through the basics of DSA's political orientation and strategy for moving toward democratic socialism, and also have call participants practice discussing these issues with each other. By the end of the call you should feel much more comfortable thinking about and expressing what DSA does and what makes our organization/strategy unique. 8 pm ET; 7 pm CT; 6 pm MT; 5 pm PT. 70 minutes.

Film Discussion: Rosa [Luxemburg]

May 31, 2017
· 95 rsvps

Join DSA member Jason Schulman to discuss the film Rosa, directed by feminist filmmaker Margarethe von Trotta. View it here at no cost before the discussion. Marxist theorist and economist Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919) played a key role in German socialist politics. Jason edited Rosa Luxemburg: Her Life and Legacy and has a chapter in Rosa Remix. 9 ET/8 CT/7 MT/6 PT.

Film Discussion: The Free State of Jones

June 11, 2017
· 27 rsvps

Join Victoria Bynum, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History, Texas State University, San Marcos, to discuss The Free State of Jones. STX Entertainment bought the film rights to Bynum's book of the same title. She also served as a consultant and appears in a cameo scene. What was the Free State of Jones? During the Civil War, an armed band of deserters led by Newt Knight, a non-slaveholding white farmer, took to the swamps of southeastern Mississippi and battled against the Confederacy in an uprising popularly known as “The Free State of Jones.” Joining Newt in this rebellion was Rachel, a slave. From their relationship, there developed a controversial mixed-race community that endured long after the Civil War had ended. View the film here for $6 before the discussion. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT.

Introduction to Democratic Socialism

June 13, 2017
· 14 rsvps

Join Bill Barclay, Chicago DSA co-chair, and Peg Strobel, National Political Committee and Feminist Working Group co-chair, on this webinar for an overview of what we in Democratic Socialists of America mean when we talk about "socialism," "capitalism" and the goals of the socialist movement. 9:30 PM ET; 8:30 PM CT; 7:30 PM MT; 6:30 PM PT.

  1. This webinar is free for any DSA member in good standing.
  2. You need a computer with good internet access.
  3. Your computer must have headphones (preferred) or speakers; you can speak thru a mic or use chat to "speak".
  4. If you have questions, contact Bill Barclay, chocolatehouse@sbcglobal.net.
  5. If you have technical questions, contact Tony Schmitt, schmittaj@gmail.com, 608-355-6568.

Film Discussion: Pride

September 10, 2017
· 7 rsvps

Join DSA members Eric Brasure and Brendan Hamill to discuss the British film Pride (2014). It’s 1984, British coal miners are on strike, and a group of gays and lesbians in London bring the queer community together to support the miners in their fight. Based on the true story of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners. The film is available for rent on YouTube, Amazon, and iTunes. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT.

Film Discussion: Union Maids

September 24, 2017
· 5 rsvps

 

Join DSA member and labor historian Susan Hirsch in discussing Union Maids (1976). Nominated for an Academy Award, this documentary follows three Chicago labor organizers (Kate Hyndman, Stella Nowicki, and Sylvia Woods) active beginning in the 1930s. The filmmakers were members of the New American Movement (a precursor of DSA), and the late Vicki Starr (aka Stella Nowicki) was a longtime member of Chicago DSA and the Chicago Women's Liberation Union. It’s available free on YouTube, though sound quality is poor. 8ET/7CT/6MT/5PT.