How to Enjoy the Women's March as a Disabled Person

Women participating in the Women's March on Washington 2017
via Shutterstock

Being disabled shouldn't stop you from attending.

What Disabled Women Should Know About Attending the Women's March, According to a Disabled Woman

On Saturday, Jan. 19, women across the U.S. will participate in this year's Women's March, advocating for the rights of every type of woman.

As outspoken feminists, it's an event we look forward to every single year. There's no more powerful feeling that flooding the streets to protest for equal rights of our sisters.

We've attended this event in the few years it has been around and we haven't had any issues, other than deciding what to write on our signs year after year. But for disabled women, this event can seem intimidating.

Seeing as we are all able-bodied women, we can't entirely speak on behalf of disabled women hoping to attend the event. But activist and special education preschool teacher Sarah Marks can offer her advice on the matter.

Marks is a disabled woman who has attended the march in both 2017 and 2018, and has vocalized why the Women's March must do more for disability inclusion.

"I think it is important that the organizers of the Women's March include disabled women in the foundation of the March," Marks told over email. "We are so often relegated to niche areas of advocacy, but we have so much to offer. The disabled community is the only identity group that intersects every other identity group, so by including disabled women as a core group of advocates, we are including all those other underrepresented groups, too."

While the Women's March is meant for all women, it isn't entirely as inclusive as it sounds.

"Historically, the Women's March has only addressed disability from the perspective of marchers having to care for those with disabilities," Marks says. "They need to address disability from the perspective of including marchers with disabilities in order to empower them to be advocates themselves."

Nevertheless, Marks believes disabled women can and should attend the march, even if they're hesitant.

"When I went to the first Women's March, I was worried that I might stick out like a sore thumb because I might be the only disabled person there, but I came to realize that's not a bad thing," she urges. "Everyone was there with the intention of advocating for underrepresented groups, so many people were receptive to hearing my perspective. I was eager to talk about the fact that disabled women are frequently left out of conversations and spaces of advocacy. The best way to get included is to simply show up."

In light of these sentiments, Mia Ives-Rublee (a founder of the Women's March Disability Caucus) made it clear that the march does its part to better included disabled people in their foundation.

"I noticed numerous individuals asking about accessibility at the Women's March and decided to get some friends together to start a caucus," Ives-Rublee tells us over email. "After I created a caucus, I sent numerous emails to any person I could find contact information for and offered to help them make the march accessible, providing numerous services during the event. We developed a plan that would include ASL interpreting, CART, mental health services, ADA information guides, accessible warming areas, ADA seating area, etc. I also ensured the Women's March Unity principles included addressing issues disabled women face and made sure a disabled woman spoke at the event. The Disability Caucus has done similar efforts for each march run by the Women's March."

Ensuring safety and inclusivity is one of Ives-Rublee's biggest concerns. As one individual experience can't define what needs to be improved, the caucus relies on feedback from disabled women around to country to better assess what strategies need to be implemented to better service the women in question.

"Accessibility should be weaved throughout the organizing process and not just tacked on at the end," she notes. "By doing this, we ensure we aren't creating extra burdens on the participants or the organizers. Each event begins with a discussion of various issues that could occur in various locations we consider. We try to provide a wide range of services and think of the possible issues that could arise throughout the event. Once we know the run of the event, we can begin to focus on which services to hone in on. We work on emergency planning and various roles that could assist the disability community. We ensure that we include the disability community throughout the process. Once we sign up volunteers, we make sure each volunteer has a basic knowledge around accessibility services and basic disability etiquette We also make sure that our volunteers include disabled people who can help with interactions during the day of the march and highlight issues as they arise throughout the day. After the event, we spend time talking to the disability community to review our weaknesses so that we can improve the experience for the next event."

What Disabled Women Should Know Before Attending the Women's March

It sounds easy enough to show up, seeing as volunteers are trained to better help disabled women throughout the march and the Disability Caucus worked tirelessly to ensure the safety and inclusion of disabled women for the day's event. Yet, there is still research that needs to be done beforehand.

"I highly suggest disabled women review all the accessibility information for the march," Ives-Rublee states. "If they have questions, I recommend they email the organizers beforehand. I also recommend individuals review the weather to prepare what they need to bring day of. Every march is different and it is important to know what type of environment it will be. Some marches can require more movement than others. The more the march moves, the more likely you can run in to certain issues around safety. Lastly, expect the march to run longer than originally planned. I have rarely been to an event that ended on time. Make sure you dress appropriately and bring what you need for the day. This can include snacks, water, medication/medical supplies, stress/fidget toys, external phone batteries, extra clothing, and toilet paper. Lastly, make sure you know your exit routes. If an area gets overcrowded, gauge your comfort level. Sometimes it is better to sit on the outskirts rather than allowing yourself to get trapped in a crowd."

Tips for Attending the Women's March as a Disabled Woman

Marks and Ives-Rublee know better than anyone how to make attending the Women's March easier for disabled individuals, which is why they were kind enough to share their top tips with us.

1. Visit the Location Beforehand

Before the event, check out the area where the march will be held to know what you're up against.

"We recommend printing out a map the night before," Ives-Rublee says. "Also, if you have time, sometimes it's good to visit the location a day before to get a feel of the terrain before a lot of people crowd the area."

2. Attend

Marks' first tip is to simply just attend the march.

"My main tip for women attending the Women's March in a wheelchair is to just go for it," she tells us. "I was hesitant the first time I went, because I tend to get claustrophobic in large crowds, but I found everyone to be really welcoming and I had no issues with people overcrowding my space."

3. Check the Website

Because each march is in a different location around the states, it's best to know the route before you get there.

"I would also recommend checking the website for the specific march you want to attend, because they may have information for disabled marchers, and you should at least be able to see a route map of where you are going be be marching," Marks notes.

4. Pack Light

There's no need to bring more than necessary to an event like this, especially when you'll be roaming about and could easily lose something.

"Bring as little as possible, but obviously have your daily essentials with you," Marks mentions. "I have a small zip pouch under my chair where I keep my wallet and other small items that I tend to need easy access to. This way I don't have to worry about my valuables out in the open, but they are still handy if I need them."

5. Bring a Sign

Having a sign is a necessary part of attending the Women's March for more than one reason.

"A sign lets people know exactly why you are there and what is important to you," Marks says. "I created my sign on poster board and tied a string to the corners so I could hang it around my neck while I was pushing my chair. The first year I marched, I also covered my sign with plastic because it was raining and I was glad I did!"

6. Connect With the Volunteers

Again, the volunteers are all trained to better help disabled people feel comfortable at the march. If you need help, don't hesitate to reach out to one.

"If you get lost or have questions about services throughout the day of the march, talk to the march volunteers," Ives-Rublee mentions. "Many marches are now standardizing locations for disabled people to sit during rallies. If they haven't, see if you can get a volunteer to help you move in a crowded space. I find it comforting to have a person I know with me during the march. That person can help me navigate crowded areas and find help if I need it."

We Want to Hear From You

Will you be attending the Women's March this year?

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