Striving to remove barriers that prevent us from building Vibrant, Diverse, Inclusive, Accessible Communities!

 

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Advocacy

By Mike Thompson, 21 January, 2024

Colored silhouettes of people with various disabilities active in society

What is Advocacy?

Advocacy involves organized efforts to influence policies and attitudes, specifically addressing problems faced by minorities. It includes activities that involve working to promote positive change, raise awareness, and shape policy. Advocates work strategically to address discrimination and foster inclusivity for minority groups.

Dominant Majority Dynamics

Within any given society, a dominant majority may sustain discriminatory practices to maintain power dynamics and uphold prevailing social hierarchies. This tendency is often driven by historical biases, cultural norms, and institutional structures that solidify discriminatory behaviors. Stereotypes, perpetuated through various channels like media and education, amplify a lack of awareness and empathy toward minority groups. Insufficient education on diverse perspectives further contributes to the persistence of discriminatory practices.

In simpler terms, the majority arranges things to fit their preferences, generally ignoring the problems and barriers this creates for minority groups.

Overcoming discrimination against minorities necessitates concerted efforts to challenge stereotypes, cultivate inclusivity, and address systemic inequalities. This involves proactive measures in education, advocacy, and policy changes aimed at dismantling ingrained prejudices and actively removing barriers that prevent us from building Diverse, Vibrant, Inclusive, Accessible Communities!

The Necessity of Enforcing Civil and Human Rights Protections

Civil and human rights laws and policies are crucial for safeguarding fundamental rights, particularly for People with Disabilities. While individual goodwill and voluntary efforts are commendable, relying solely on these aspects can be insufficient in addressing systemic issues. It is essential to emphasize that the removal of barriers to accessibility should not be solely dependent on kindness or charity but recognized as a fundamental responsibility. These laws provide a structured and enforceable framework, ensuring consistency, legal accountability, and protections against discrimination. They actively promote inclusivity by mandating accessibility measures and accommodations, contributing to social justice, and addressing historical inequalities.

The Integral Role of Advocacy Initiatives

Advocacy plays a pivotal role in amplifying the impact of civil and human rights laws and policies. Advocates are instrumental in raising awareness, driving policy changes, and ensuring the effective implementation of inclusive practices. Particularly, advocates contribute significantly to the ongoing effort to remove systemic Ableism.

Systemic ableism refers to the pervasive, institutionalized discrimination and prejudice against People with Disabilities that is embedded within organizational structures, policies, and practices. This form of ableism is not merely a collection of individual biases but is ingrained in the very fabric of institutions, cultures, and norms, leading to widespread and persistent barriers that discriminate against People with Disabilities.

Sadly, these oppressive and discriminatory behaviors are contrary to our Baha’i Teachings on Unity in Diversity as well as our current efforts to build vibrant communities.
 
By challenging and dismantling these systemic barriers, advocates play a crucial part in fulfilling the responsibility of creating genuinely inclusive and accessible communities. In essence, civil and human rights laws, coupled with advocacy, provide a comprehensive and systemic solution that goes beyond individual goodwill, emphasizing the importance of recognizing accessibility as a shared responsibility and working towards the removal of systemic Ableism for lasting positive change.

A sweet story to to Drive Home Essential Points

The menu in the cafeteria was not accessible. Blindness was not the barrier. The barrier was the lack of accessibility of the menu. The Cafeteria manager said, We’re very busy, so stop complaining and be appreciative!

But if they’re serving chocolate cake and everyone else is getting some, and no one tells me, I’m not feeling very appreciative! - Haben Girma

Watch the video  about "The Courage to Fight for Chocolate Cake," on FaceBook with captions or watch the video entitled "Haben Girma - Global Women In Leadership Economic Forum" inline below to hear this sweet story in Haben's own words.

In the video, Haben Girma underscores the critical role of advocacy and Civil Rights Laws in ensuring accessibility for herself and all People with Disabilities who come after her. Her college experience, dealing with inconsistent access to cafeteria menus, highlights a common problem: people do not usually voluntarily and consistently make things accessible. Haben's use of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) emphasizes that legal frameworks are necessary to enforce accessibility rights. The narrative emphasizes that without advocacy to enforce existing Civil Rights Laws, there would be a lack of commitment to initially make things accessible and maintain consistent accessibility. This underscores the ongoing necessity for both advocacy and legal measures to ensure equal access for People with Disabilities.

 

 

Preventing Dominant Majority Dynamics as we Build Vibrant Communities

Baha'is around the world are diligently working to build vibrant communities. In striving to do so, it is critical that we do not fall into the old world order way of thinking but instead prevent the kind of majority dynamics described above.

This requires taking a close look at our evolving infrastructure.  As Haben points out, there are over 1.3 billion people with disabilities all over the world. That's a significant population. We are the largest minority group, so let's prioritize removing barriers to accessibility. Following Haben's advocacy, are we intentionally designing for inclusion?  Are the people in charge of our websites making certain that they are fully accessible and follow all of the latest International Accessibility Standards? If not, why not? Are the people who are producing videos making certain that the videos are accessible and have captions as well as Audio Descriptions? If not, then why not? Are the people sending online communications ensuring that these communications also follow these same International Accessibility Standards? If not, then why not? Are the people planning events, both physical and online, ensuring that these events, along with the programs, services, and materials, are all fully accessible? If not, then why not? Are there clear policies and procedures in place to ensure accessibility? If not, then why not? Are there clear places to turn for people with disabilities to report accessibility problems and seek solutions and get timely and meaningful responses? If not, then why not?

If we are not doing these things, then we need to seriously ask if our community building process is either inclusive or exclusive in nature? Are we arranging things to fit the preferences of the majority while generally ignoring the problems and barriers this creates for minority groups?

If People with Disabilities do report Accessibility problems are we telling them " We’re very busy, so stop complaining and be appreciative!" ... Yikes!  Busy with whose priorities and problems at what cost?

 How do the Baha'i teachings guide us?

… If any discrimination is at all to be tolerated, it should be a discrimination not against, but rather in favour of the minority, be it racial or otherwise. -(Shoghi Effendi: Lights of Guidance., pp. 35)

...every organized community enlisted under the banner of Bahá’u’lláh should feel it to be its first and inescapable obligation to nurture, encourage, and safeguard every minority belonging to any faith, race, class, or nation within it. (Shoghi Effendi: Lights of Guidance., pp. 35)

Like Raceism, Ableism is ...

a profound deviation from the standard of true morality. It deprives a portion of humanity of the opportunity to cultivate and express the full range of their capability and to live a meaningful and flourishing life, while blighting the progress of the rest of humankind. It cannot be rooted out by contest and conflict. It must be supplanted by the establishment of just relationships among individuals, communities, and institutions of society that will uplift all and will not designate anyone as “other”. - Universal House of Justice 22 July 2020

Every effort must have its result, else it is not a true effort. You must become the means of lighting the world of humanity. This is the infallible proof and sign. Every progress depends on two things, knowledge and practice. First acquire knowledge, and, when conviction is reached, put it into practice. - Abdul Baha in London: Addresses & Notes of Conversations P. 112

Be an upholder and defender of the victim of oppression. -Baha’u’llah

 

 

In the realm of advocating for People with Disabilities, the principles of "silence is consent" and "justice delayed is justice denied" carry profound significance, especially in addressing the persistent lack of accessibility. The absence of vocal support and proactive measures from policymakers, content creators, and technology developers can be perceived as an implicit endorsement of existing barriers. This silence, particularly concerning the problems faced by Blind People, perpetuates an environment where People with Disabilities encounter unnecessary barriers in accessing information and participating fully in various aspects of community life.

When there is silence on the need for accessibility, it implies a passive acceptance of exclusion, reinforcing the idea that it is acceptable for People with Disabilities to face problems and barriers in accessing information and engaging in societal activities. Advocacy for accessibility requires an active voice to break this silence, ensuring that the concerns and problems faced by People with Disabilities are not silently accepted but actively addressed.

Moreover, the delayed implementation of accessibility measures poses a significant problem to the advocacy goal of ensuring equitable access to information, services, and opportunities for People with Disabilities. Justice delayed in this context translates to prolonged periods during which People with Disabilities continue to face barriers, impeding their ability to participate fully in society. This delay becomes a form of denial, depriving People with Disabilities of their right to timely and equal access, blocking their progress and limiting their contributions to building diverse, vibrant, and inclusive communities.

To truly advocate for People with Disabilities and fulfill the commitment to removing barriers, it is imperative to break the silence and address accessibility issues promptly. Proactive measures, such as swift implementation and adherence to accessibility standards like the WCAG International Standards, become essential in ensuring that justice is not delayed. By actively speaking out against the acceptance of barriers and advocating for timely solutions, we contribute to building a community where the rights of People with Disabilities are championed without compromise, and justice is not just a delayed goal but a present reality.

The call to advocacy is a compelling imperative in the pursuit of building truly Diverse, Vibrant, Inclusive, Accessible Communities. Advocacy, as a force for positive change, goes beyond individual goodwill and voluntary efforts. It involves organized efforts to influence policies and attitudes, challenging discriminatory practices and fostering inclusivity for minority groups, especially People with Disabilities. The integral role of advocacy, coupled with civil and human rights laws, provides a comprehensive and systemic solution, emphasizing accessibility as a shared responsibility. The powerful narrative of Haben Girma's experience underscores the critical need for advocacy and legal frameworks to enforce accessibility rights. The principles of "silence is consent" and "justice delayed is justice denied" highlight the profound significance of breaking the silence on accessibility problems promptly. By actively speaking out, advocating for timely solutions, and adhering to international accessibility standards, we contribute to a community where barriers are removed, and the rights of People with Disabilities are championed without compromise. Becoming an advocate is not just a choice; it's a commitment to building a future where diversity is celebrated, barriers are removed, and inclusivity is the foundation of Diverse, Vibrant, Inclusive, Accessible Communities.

Striving to remove barriers that prevent us from building a Diverse, Vibrant, Inclusive, Accessible Community!

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