Lately I’ve heard some serious grumblings from Pagans concerning the accessibility of festivals as well as rituals to those with disabilities. Much of this conversation has taken place on various blogs and forums ( www.occultcorpus.com
) and as expected much of the debate has been less than academic or understanding. The major issue surrounding the debate is the emotionally driven polemic the both sides are spewing. This article was written as an attempt to cut through this internet outrage and present some information.
From my experiences with the Neo-Pagan community, many groups don’t accommodate the physically handicapped out of general negligence. I’ve never seen any circle actively discriminate against the disabled, but I have been witness to misunderstandings and awkward conversations. I do not accuse the Neo-Pagan movement of any discriminatory practices as a whole, but I do find that there is a lack of empathy which leads those with physical issues to be treated with a polite disdain. One factor is the role consensus plays in many Neo-Pagan communities. Groups that function with consensus often find themselves unable to perform activities when some of their members have mobility issues. Below are some theoretical examples:
Common Example: ” Awwwwwwww we can’t go hiking up to the lake, because Janet is unable to walk that far. Guess we’ll have another indoor ritual” :: cue sighs::
Common Example: “ We’re an open circle that prides itself on being accepting of all comers no matter who they are, but there is simply not enough money in the budget to hire sign language interpreters for all of our rituals. We’d be happy to help you find a volunteer.”
Less Common Example.” I have a hard time doing circle work with Roger. He is Bi-polar and his energy messes with mine”
Rare Example for comedic effect: “I love watching the cripples try and spiral dance. Wheel chairs and crutches everywhere!”
In order to prevent occurrences, such as those above, many groups prevent those with mobility issues from joining them. While outwardly accepting and open, the Neo-Pagan community is like most of the Western world, only open and accepting as long as they are not inconvenienced personally. It is not a flaw of the community itself, merely a flaw of the wider community win which Neo-Pagans function. While there is a great deal of effort to change this (several books/articles on covens, communities, and rituals feature sections about dealing with these issues), it falls flat in terms of the human factor.
Understanding where the disrespect comes from is no comfort to those who suffer not only from a disability but from the social stigma that accompanies it. We as a community must be understanding and accepting of the needs of others, however we do not need to break our owns backs over it. The disabled, I refuse bandy about colorful PC language, need some personal accountability. Your health issues are you own, not the responsibility of the community. Please understand that most festivals and open groups lack the resources (monetary/ manpower/education) to fully accommodate everyone’s’ needs. Many festivals are held on campgrounds or in reclaimed wild space which lack accommodations for anyone. The ADA is very loose in its management of wild lands, not to mention religious organizations. Many of us struggle to be taken seriously as a faith, let alone get the community involvement which can lead to volunteers to help with the needs of the community.
Issues concerning those with disabilities and differences are a fresh issue in America. Some folks simply do not know how to handle it. What angers me is that the Neo-Pagan community is vocal about the abuses they face in daily life, yet are just as guilty as the rest of the Western world in how we approach disability and difference. What angers me more is the sense of entitlement many feel our community is obligated to provide. What is needed is communication, activism, and dedication. We do not need any more rants. SO I urge those of you who feel left out because of your conditions to get active in your local communities and in our larger shared Neo-Pagan community.
Links and suggested reading!