Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Conferences and Accessibility #disability #MCIC2016 #CREInternational

I really want to go to all sorts of conferences, mostly about church and mission, but my health means it's basically impossible. Let me explain...

There's the travel
I  wanted to go to the inaugral International Messy Church Conference but I had no idea how I would get there or what it would be like when I was there.  I looked at it from every different angle and just couldn't figure out how.

I really wanted to go to the Christian Resources Exhibition but I couldn't even imagine how I'd get from Reading, across London and to ExCel and still have any energy for the day itself.  I knew that I wouldn't get anything from the day once I got there; and although I could go with friends who would do the driving etc I couldn't guarantee I could stay as late as they'd want to.  And by not being able to stay late, I mean that I'd crash out in pain and loose my ability to sit up properly.

I really want to get to the Disability and Jesus day in Manchester, but again it's 4 hours away and that either means an exhausting journey or a night at a hotel which isn't easy either.  You see a hotel involves a bed I don't know and I would have to go alone and that increases the anxiety about what I can deal with.

I am not saying this because I'm complaining, I'm not, but it makes me realise why there are so few disabled people at conferences, church ones or otherwise.  It's really really really hard to navigate transportation systems and hotels and conference centres, even good ones; and that makes it all a step too far.

Then there's the format
Today I spent a bit of time catching up on the Messy Church conference and was so thrilled to see photos of a wonderful time being had by people from all over the world.
But then it hit me.....
I couldn't be a part of that.
The chairs are too close together, and so are the tables.
It is so visual and so active and energetic and so inaccessible for me.
It is so very messy and yet not messy enough for those with sensory or mobility disabilities to feel like they can fully take part.

And CRE?
Well again it looks amazing in photos; but all those stands have posters too high and too many people and delegates buzzing everywhere and the need for free hands to carry everything, and it's visual visual visual.

And finally there's the loneliness
I am an extrovert, sometimes less in your face than others, but basically I'm a fully signed up member of the people people group.  Yet when I'm in my wheelchair or scooter I loose the ability to be an extrovert.  I'm not sure if it's the fact that I'm lower down or the fact that people see the wheels before they see me, or whether it's all in my head because I'm getting used to it; but it's the truth.

Add to that my sight loss and suddenly I can't see who is who anymore and every new place is somewhere I have to figure out and  crowds are terrifying because I don't want to run anyone over or miss someone who smiled at me but I clearly didn't see.

It's lonely amongst strangers now, in fact it can be lonely amongst friends and family because I'm not as able anymore and that is a separation; but in a room full of strangers I feel lonely and scared and it erodes my confidence.

Again, no ones fault, just the way it is;

I have a dream
Of conferences where there are disabled people and everything is accessible.
Of timings which aren't so exhausting or hard to deal with around public transport.
Of activities which every person in a room can take part in without any need of help or exclusion.
Of true accessibility and resourcing and messiness and adjustment and openess and love and acceptance.

Now I just wonder; will it come true?
Disability and Jesus - is it over to you?

Or am I expecting too much and need to get overmyself?

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