Lisette Auton is an incredibly talented, insightful and go-getting part of a new generation of disabled artists. We are delighted to welcome her guest blog, which comes to us as a reflection of an earlier blogpost, detailing Lisette's experience of the inaccessibility of the digital world.
Image Description - Lisette Auton, white with freckles, 40 years old, short brown hair, holds her purple stick across her body threateningly and wears a purple t-thirst with the slogan ‘Disability is not a bad word’. Her face is all screwed up, teeth bared, wondering what on earth is going on. Photo Credit: PaperBoat Photography by Laura Tindall
Little Cog's Artistic Director, Vici Wreford-Sinnott, recently compiled A Guide to Hosting an Accessible Online Meeting and is actively putting its contents into action where and when possible, and encouraging others to do the same. The guide has now been accessed hundreds of times online. We were delighted to have Lisette's support for a recent Disconsortia zoom meeting with features for people with screen fatigue, screen overwhelm, neurodivergence and for people who might be new to zoom. We communicated well, and in detail, in advance and this is how it went.
I was commissioned by the wonderful ally, Luxi Ltd, to write a blog post entitled ‘The Inaccessibility of the Future (or, What to do when you just can’t Zoom)’ in which I wrote about my experiences of trying to access online meetings, and my worries about how and why lots of people were being left behind and what we could do about it. Everything still stands, still worries me, especially tech poverty, access to broadband, and having a safe space at home, having a home! There is so much we take for granted when creating a new world online. These still need to be solved.
But for me, personally, I had a breakthrough. Nothing has changed whatsoever with my access needs, unsurprisingly, but what has changed is my awareness of what I need to ask for, for me, to make it possible.
I’m learning that dark sunglasses means that some meeting spaces without the zoomy yellow box work better – Microsoft Teams and Google Meets and Skype. But these are still harder to access for many, don’t provide the same facilities, and are therefore not the go-to which is Zoom. I completely understand and get that – access is also about making the actual getting into a meeting as easy as possible, which Zoom does well. It’s that pesky yellow box in group meetings that’s still breaking me. I realised that if I didn’t have to see that pesky box…
I began to state my needs. I will not be looking at the screen, will be relying purely on audio. Please could you ask if people could introduce themselves by name, or could you introduce them, so that I am able to situate myself in the conversation, and if there are any slides, could I see them in advance, or could you briefly describe them? Everyone said yes, dead easy, of course. Hurrah!
Not everyone did it.
Do you know what hurts more? Going through the faff, the time, the emotional labour, the wondering if you’re making a fuss, the being told that’s dead easy of course and within two minutes of being there going, ‘Oh. I’m not welcome after all.’ Not having a clue what’s going on. Being right on the margin, again, quietly leaving, again.
Do you know what it also makes you do? Stop trying. Because even though yes does mean a yes, and the people are wonderful, trust is now gone and hurt is thwacking you around the heart bits. So it’s easier just to ignore invitations and withdraw.
I’m Assistant Producer for DISCONSORTIA, an incredible collective of North East England disabled artists. We needed to get together. The approach was made to me with kindness, with curiosity, with I do not want you to feel pressured, with we will work it out, HOW can we work it out, so that you can be there, can be present.
I was scared. Of being let down again. I nearly said an outright no. Then screwed courage to the sticking place and said yes, but this is why I’m scared, this is how it hasn’t worked, I can’t go through that again.
I was listened to, heard, supported, and we came up with a plan. Which you know what, was really bloomin’ easy.
As well as me being audio only, we have Deaf members so we use a sign language interpreter, we have people who prefer not to speak, we have timings to stick to just like everybody else, and you know what? We only went and bloomin’ did it. IT IS POSSIBLE.
I booked the sign language interpreter a week in advance, I asked for advice. We had a pre-meeting to get together before the main one and make sure the tech was working, and time to ‘pin’ each other so that they stayed large and visible when everyone else arrived. I used keyboard shortcuts to take part. The meeting was Actively Chaired. People’s microphones were turned off on arrival and the chair explained why – so that we could take time for the sign language interpretation, so that everyone could be involved, and that we could meet everyone’s needs. The chair asked for raised hands or a raised hand via a keyboard shortcut in order to contribute. The chair introduced everyone by name. None of the magic was lost, it was wonderful and joyous, and we even finished on time.
Everyone was included, valued, took up space in each and their own way. I cried when I left. Because it was possible, it is possible.
Ask. If you ask, listen. If you say yes, do it.
I ended my last blog post like this, and it’s still just as applicable now:
“We are creatives. We are used to problem solving with no money, no time, and the audience about to enter…
Could we please work this out together? Work out the future together.
Make sure no one is left behind, make sure no one is missing.”
Lisette Auton does stuff with words: disabled writer, activist, poet, spoken-word artist, actor, theatre-maker and creative practitioner. She’s an award-winning published poet, a Penguin WriteNow mentee, recipient of an Early Careers Residency for Literature at Cove Park, and on the TSS Publishing list of Best British & Irish Flash Fiction. She uses her platform as a performer, writer and theatre-maker to make the invisible visible. www.lisetteauton.co.uk