EEOC Dialogues: Disability

On Thursday, November 19, 2020, the Diversity & Inclusion department presented the third of an event series requested by the Equal Employment Opportunity Committee: The EEOC Dialogues. This webinar focused on disability and was facilitated by Claudia Alick, cultural producer, performer, intersectional inclusion consultant and founder of Calling Up Justice, a transmedia company. The two-hour webinar identified resources and actions that each member can take to ensure their workplaces are safe and inclusive for Disabled* people, both on stage and off. The event was hosted by Bliss Griffin, Equity’s diversity & inclusion strategist. ASL translation was provided by Jai Wexler and Jodie Prysock via Sign Language Resources, Inc.

Alick began by modeling accessible introductions. In addition to one’s name, an accessible introduction can include personal gender pronouns; an Indigenous land acknowledgement; a visual description of the speaker’s self and surroundings; and an accounting of their own access needs. After observing Alick’s model and hearing her explanation, participants practiced their accessible introductions in breakout rooms.

Alick shared vocabulary and ideas developed by activists and scholars who work for disability civil rights. These included:

  • A definition of the Disabled community, the largest marginalized community on the planet.
  • A comparison of medical versus social models of disability, i.e., disability as illness versus disability as a social difference.
  • The Deep Dive Vocabulary Guide, developed by Alick and others, a living document with vocabulary for the Disabled community and all who wish to increase accessibility and justice.
  • A description of Crip Theory, an approach to thinking that works against treating able-bodiedness as the norm, similar to the way queer theory pushes back against treating heterosexuality as the norm.
  • An overview of the history of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Disabled activists' history of collaboration alongside The Black Panthers.
  • A description of the Disability Justice framework, which promotes solidarity between people with different disabilities, as well as an intersectional approach that works for collective liberation of all those with marginalized identities.

Alick moved the discussion toward microaggressions and other micro assaults as they are often experienced by Disabled people. Microaggressions, as described by psychologist Derald Wing Sue, are "brief, everyday exchanges that send denigrating messages to certain individuals because of their group membership." Alick provided a model of a response to microaggressions that confronts injustice in real time. The model also works towards a restorative vision of justice that can help all, including the perpetrator of the microaggression, to shift their thinking and behavior.

"I noticed something that was inaccessible in the process, and maybe we can make it better. In processes you are designing, these are things you can keep in mind."

Finally, Alick led the webinar towards theatre-specific concepts regarding disability, including definitions of:

  • Relaxed Performances which provide accommodations for neurodivergent people – including those with autism, sensory or communication disorders or developmental differences – who would benefit from a more relaxed theatregoing environment. “I also hold that we should present relaxed meetings,” said Alick, providing examples of having all the lights on or providing a separate quiet room at meetings.
  • Traditional portrayals of disability in media that are offensive and demeaning, such as Disability Drag/Cripping Up and Inspiration Porn.
  • The Intrusive Identification Demand where people with disabilities are asked to disclose their disability to someone they have just met. Alick warned, “You may be actually asking someone about a really traumatic story. It is always inappropriate to ask this question: just don’t do it.”
  • Crip Time, which acknowledges that the time to complete tasks assumes abled bodies and asks instead for timing based on individual bodies’ needs.

The lesson on theatre-specific concepts also included ways to increase access in an organization, workplace or other kind of space, including rethinking intake processes, providing accessible signage and increasing work area accessibility, including bathrooms, rehearsal rooms and performance spaces. This provided members with ways to “speak truth to power.”

Alick encouraged participants, “Say to an employer, 'I noticed something that was inaccessible in the process, and maybe we can make it better. In processes you are designing, these are things you can keep in mind.'”

The webinar concluded with a robust Q & A between Alick and Griffin, on disability issues in both the theatre industry and society at large. Interested members can view a recording of the webinar in the member portal.

*Disabled with a capital D describes people who share a cultural identity based on their disability and their support of a social model of disability.