Wendy Banfield is on a mission. She is not waiting around for change, she is pro-actively seeking it, albeit one person or one place at a time. She is a member of “In Good Company” a peer group that finds innovative and interesting ways to educate business and the community about inclusion. Wendy has a lesson for all of us and writes of her experience in hopes of encouraging others to take action themselves. Here is her story:
Two of my passions in life are inclusion and education. Educating community about inclusion means getting out there to demonstrate a need, rather than just by asking for a change. I co-facilitate a peer group in the inner-west of Sydney which meets at a community centre. It has the standard access and parking requirements, but in an uninviting and sterile space. I also love music and I believe it can be a great way to create inclusion. However, I also know that most music venues are not accessible. I wanted to challenge this and decided to ask the group if they would like to visit Gasoline Pony, a favourite local music venue with me.
This small music venue has an accessible toilet, but is sometimes used for storing musical instrument cases. No doubt venue owners would have quickly cleared the space if someone needed it. However I wanted to test how inclusive this space could be in all ways. The peer group were also keen for a change of location from our usual sterile meeting place and agreed that testing out the venue would be a worthwhile exercise. Remember, this venue is very small and we were planning to visit with two or three people using manual wheelchairs, a person using an electric wheelchair and a person using a white cane.
We received a very friendly welcome. A woman came and sat with us and asked who we all were. After my explanation she informed me she has epilepsy. As soon as she advised the venue they changed their lighting to ensure she could come any time without concern. If they do make a change to the lighting, they pre-warn her. The visit was a great success and some members of the group have since returned on their own. The visit also encouraged our members to move out of their comfort zone and try new things – they challenged the barriers to inclusion that were in their minds.
We have to keep educating ourselves and others and I am more than happy to be reminded where there are shortfalls in my own understanding. I also hope that I can continue to find ways to educate community in a friendly, considerate and inclusive way. Understanding inclusion is an ongoing learning process for all of us.