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.

DSA Queer Socialists Conference Call

April 24, 2017
· 46 rsvps

DSA is in the process of forming a Queer Socialists Working Group. This call will cover a discussion of possible activities for the group, its proposed structure, assigning tasks, and reports on the revision of DSA's LGBT statement and on possible political education activities. 9 pm ET/8 pm CT/7 pm MT/6 pm PT.

 

Introduction to Socialist Feminism Call

April 30, 2017
· 55 rsvps

Join Philadelphia DSA veteran activist Michele Rossi to explore “socialist feminism.” How does it differ from other forms of feminism? How and when did it develop? What does it mean for our activism? 4-5:30pm ET, 3-4:30pm CT, 2-3:30pm MT, 1-2:30pm PT.

DSA Webinar: Talking About Socialism

May 02, 2017
· 11 rsvps

Practice talking about socialism in plain language. Create your own short rap. Prepare for those conversations about socialism that happen when you table in public.

Join us for our latest organizing training for democratic socialist activists: DSA’s (Virtual) Little Red Schoolhouse.

This training is at 9:00pm Eastern, 8:00pm Central, 7:00pm Mountain, 6:00pm Pacific, 5:00pm Alaska, and 3:00pm Hawaii Time. Please RSVP.

Instructor:

Steve Max, DSA Vice Chair and one of the founders of the legendary community organizing school, The Midwest Academy

In Talking About Socialism you will learn to:

  • Have a quick response ready to go next time someone asks you about democratic socialism.
  • Create your own elevator pitch about democratic socialism and DSA.
  • Use your personal experience and story to explain democratic socialism.
  • Think through the most important ideas you want to convey about democratic socialism.
  • Have a concise explanation of what DSA does, for your next DSA table, event or coalition meeting.

Training Details

  • This workshop is for those who have already had an introduction to democratic socialism, whether from DSA's webinar or from other sources.
  • If you have a computer with microphone, speakers and good internet access, you can join via internet for free.
  • If you have questions, contact Theresa Alt <talt@igc.org> 607-280-7649.
  • If you have very technical questions, contact Tony Schmitt <schmittaj@gmail.com> 608-335-6568.
  • Participation requires that you register at least 45 hours in advance, by midnight Sunday.

 

DSA New Member Orientation Call

May 06, 2017
· 52 rsvps

You've joined DSA - Great. Now register for this New Member Orientation call and find out more about our politics and our vision.  And, most importantly, how you can become involved.  2 pm ET; 1 pm CT; 12 pm MT; 11 am PT.  

Film Discussion: The Free State of Jones

June 11, 2017
· 18 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.