Last week I facilitated a workshop in Detroit hosted by Co-Act, a nonprofit collaboration space in Detroit. The workshop was focused on personal resilience and self-care based on my book, The Happy Healthy Nonprofit and was part of a series of workshops on resilience.
Co-Act is a unique organization, a hub for accelerating collaborative action in Southeast Michigan’s nonprofit community. Their space is designed for local nonprofits to connect, share ideas and develop solutions together. They have built an authentic community through cultivated conversations and events designed to build trust, deepen relationships and set the stage for collective impact.
My style of teaching is participatory; I don’t lecture with PPT endlessly and always involve the audience. This includes integrating moving around, breaking into small groups or share pairs as well as standing & stretching. I believe that interactive training makes for better learning and there is research to back that up.
However, when I have participants who are wheel-chair users, have limited mobility, or blind, I make accommodations to be inclusive and avoid being ableist.
I modify instructions or make accommodations for physical disabilities. Before the workshop begins, I will greet wheel chair users or participants who have mobility challenges and explain that there will be some moving around and find out what they are comfortable doing.
In any of my instructions for any interactive activities, I always tell people that it isn’t required to move around or stand – do what they comfortable doing and modify. I make it okay to modify so no one feels excluded.
The workshop had seating in a U-shape, so people did not have a desk to write on and I had some worksheet exercises for people to do. It would have been useful for me to pack a few clipboards to make it easier for people who use wheelchairs to complete the written exercises. (Just added these to my trainer kit)
Last year, I did a workshop at a conference for professionals who do audio description, a service that makes visual images of theatre, television, movies, and other art forms accessible to people are who blind or have low vision. My audience included many people who were blind.
Before the workshop, I asked participants who were blind what is the best way to adapt share pair exercises where they have to pair up with another person and it might require getting up from their seat and connecting with another person. They let me know they were comfortable doing this and might require some help from a buddy to navigate. I made this part of the instructions. I also had to take a little bit more care in delivering parts of my presentation that relied on being able to see the visual images in the powerpoint by describing them.
Making accommodations comes down to respectful language and also requires observing and checking in with participants.
Instructional elements are one area I modify, but my content discusses some activities such as “Walking Meetings,” which can be a challenge for wheelchair users or people with mobility issues.
I have written a Step-by-Step Guide to walking meetings and have gotten feedback from people with physical disabilities about how to make accommodations. However, the term “Walking Meetings,” is ableist. Respectful language is important.
In my workshop in Detroit, I had several people with physical disabilities. So I engaged them in a discussion about the term “walking meetings,” and how to change the name as well as make accommodations. The participants came up with a brilliant solution – change the name to “StROLLing Meetings.” The “S” stands for slowest pace sets the pace for the whole group – it isn’t a race. Rolling is a way to make the activity inclusive for everyone because people who use wheelchairs roll, not walk.
Here’s additional points to consider when making accommodations for walking meetings:
- Begin the meeting with the guidelines about “slowest pace sets the pace for the group and the activity is not a race.” This helps everyone be respectful that people walk or roll at different speeds.
- In the pre-planning, make sure the route you pick is accessible for wheel chair users to navigate. If you already know the wheel chair users in the meeting group, ask them for advice.
- Make sure you also have some stopping points along the way for people to rest and re-group. This is important if you have people with mobility issues.
- Also ask people how long they are able to participate in a strolling meeting. Some people with physical disabilities who are not wheel-chair users may only be able to “stroll” for 5-10 minutes, not a full hour or half-hour. You can modify by shortening the “stroll” part.
- Sometimes to be fully inclusive, you’ll need to modify the “Strolling Meeting” into an inside meeting where people can move around inside the meeting room or stand and stretch. Of course, this would be optional for everyone.
Training is better when you content and instruction is as inclusive as possible. You will learn as you go, sometimes by making mistakes. It is a work in process and as a trainer you have to be open to learning and adapting.