To me, Girl Guides is having a safe, fun place where everyone is included and everyone fits in no matter how different they might be or the limitations they might face. When I was 9 I was diagnosed with a condition that limited my mobility and causes me weakness and pain in my hip. I lost the ability to run and climb and play and some days even to walk. This also meant that I couldn’t wear my pack in camps, hiking, and activities that didn’t have enough resting areas, so I was feeling discouraged as a Guide.
I was lucky this year to have a wonderful Guide unit with leaders who were happy to let me help plan an accessibility meeting. Our meeting site is an elementary school so it was a place that should be accessible to everyone.
At our meeting I explained that accessibility is making sure that everyone has a chance to go/do/try things no matter what limitations they might have. Even financial accessibility is an issue and something you need to be aware of when planning something if you want everyone to be able to use it and join in.
I planned a ‘hands on’ meeting for the girls so they could try to feel what it was like to have a disability. We searched the room for accessible features. The girls tried out our fire drill, keeping in mind different disabilities and found it was a lot harder to do a fire drill when you had a disability. We decided that the ‘buddy system’ was best to use in case of emergency. One of our biggest finds was that the parking lot had one handi-capable parking spot but there was a large street lamp post right in the middle of the ramp!
At the end of the meeting I had brought in my own extra crutches for the girls to try a simple task: going to the bathroom. The handi-capable bathrooms just happen to be on the other side of the school so many of the girls tested out the other bathrooms and found that they could not open the doors, get into the stalls properly, or have a space for their crutches while on the toilet. Washing your hands was difficult as it was also in a stall. It took all the girls 10 times as long as it would have normally, just to use the bathroom.
We took all that we learned and at our next meeting – an airport visit – we charted out the accessible features. I really liked putting on this meeting because my unit was able to understand what it was like for me on a daily basis. Hopefully they were able to take what they learned and were able to help someone who needed it. It helped me because having a disability doesn’t mean you can’t do something, it just means that you have the chance to teach others about it and try to do things a different way.
Guest post by Annabella. Annabella is a Guide and a recipient of a 2015 Girl Greatness Award. Meet all of our amazing recipients!
Interested in doing an accessibility audit of your meeting space? Check out Activity 1 in our Instant Meeting for International Day of Persons with Disabilities, Dec 3.