Did you know that there are a significant number of people in today’s Pagan community who identify as disabled? Pagans with disabilities find themselves facing a unique set of issues that able-bodied people don’t have to content with. While non-disabled people may automatically assume that “disabled” means “in a wheelchair,” often disabilities are something that we cannot see. Because of this, there are sometimes conflicts between event or ritual organizers, and members of the disabled community.
While the Americans with Disabilities Act created a set of guidelines for businesses, employers and other organizations, many people with disabilities are still limited in how much participation they have in their community. Please note that this article focuses on working with members of the Pagan community who have physical disabilities. Behavioral and psychological disabilities create another set of challenges which will not be addressed here.
A number of Pagans with physical disabilities say that the number one problem they face is that of accessibility. Rituals are often held in places that are inaccessible to people with mobility issues. Whether this is an outdoor space far from a parking lot, or in a basement with narrow stairs, the lack of accessibility can be a huge problem.
Cyn says that she sometimes feels that she’s unable to participate in activities because of this. “Let's face it, most events/festivals are "in the woods," she says. “Before I got a wheelchair most were completely inaccessible, and even after I got a wheelchair, many still are as we can't navigate the rough terrain.”
Willow uses a scooter to get around, or sometimes a walker. She says, “I can walk up stairs, however, dragging my D'Jembé up three flights is nearly impossible for me. I am sure some people are willing to lend a hand but it is important to a person like myself to feel as independent as possible. Holding ritual meetings and gatherings in more accessible places would help many of us be more involved in our pagan community.”
Once a disabled person reaches the ritual area, there are even more potential issues. If a ritual organizer is unaware that someone with disabilities will be present, they may not have planned for the circumstances - and that can often present a problem. Standing for extended periods on uneven terrain, or sitting on the ground for a drum circle - while not a big deal for those who are not disabled - can be painful for someone with disabilities. In some cases, it can cause further medical issues.
Kyleigh, a disabled Pagan, says that she experienced problems after attending an event in which ritual participants were required to sit on the floor. “When it was time for us to leave the circle, my leg had literally fused in a frozen state. The next day, morning, when I woke, I could not bend my leg at all. I went to the doctor, immediately and discovered that I had dislocated my patella.”
Getting There and Back Again
Another common problem faced by Pagans with disabilities is that of transportation to and from events. Kyleigh says that when she asks for assistance in getting to rituals, the typical response from group members is simply “detailed bus instructions, no matter how many times I state that taking a bus is not an option for me.”
Chad has been in a wheelchair since he was a teenager. "I'm pretty self-sufficient, but one thing I don't do is drive. I could take a cab, but that gets really expensive which can be tough for someone on a fixed income. I don't need a keeper or a nurse, I just need someone to swing by and pick me up - someone who can pull up in my driveway, let me get in the car (which I can do without assistance), and then throw my chair in the back seat or the trunk."