Limiting the Barriers
From the Accessibility and Disability Working Group
article compiled by Stefan Carmien, Chair of Accessibility and Disability Working Group
When we think about issues of diversity and accessibility in the context of Shambhala Buddhism, we should ask, “What are the barriers that limit access to Shambhala for people of different backgrounds and personal situations?” These differences can include race, gender, sexual orientation, age, income, physical/perceptual ability, language, geographical location, culture and social strata and so forth. Warriors of Shambhala are not trying to create a dharmic nest for themselves and people just like them. Doing so would result in the corruption of the tradition. Rather we as warriors must invite as much diversity, confusion and wisdom as we can handle into the Shambhala Buddhist world. In this way we can make it accessible to the vast diversity of the world and ensure it will be a genuine world for us as well.
~ Acharya Daniel Hessey
The Accessibility and Disability Working Group is an international group of sangha interested in helping making Shambhala international, both physically and virtually as accessible as possible. We are a part of the Office of Health and Wellbeing. These articles will share with you some of our history, our aim and projects and some specifics of the work we have been doing with Dechen Choling as they work on creating a practice center that open and supportive to all.
Our mission in the context of the Office of Health and Well Being is:
“A firm commitment that in Shambhala Society access needs to be provided for seniors and people with disabilities to all activities, programs, practices, any teachings they would otherwise be able to receive, community events, etc. and this access needs to be as safe, workable, uplifted, and dignified as access is for anyone else.”
While our community has always been aware of the challenges that some of us have faced (some of you old dogs may remember helping Binny Clark up the stairs of the Boulder center at 1111 Pearl in the early 70’s) and there were some special one-time accommodations (like the induction loop in the 1981 seminary); it was not until Hamish Maclaren worked on getting a ramp for the Spruce Street building in Boulder that accessibility issues were approached in a systemic fashion. The Accessibility and Disability group came out of the early Shambhala congresses and the work that Hamish did on evaluating the accessibility problems at Shambhala Mountain Center. By 2004 the Working Group was formally established. One of the early efforts that Hamish made was collecting and disseminating of accessibly information through the Shambhala org website, a body of writing that eventually exceeded 200 pages.Hamish retired in 2012 to work on his popular video translation subtitling project, and Stefan Carmien was asked to take the chair for a three year tenure.
The Working Group started with three projects: consolidate Hamish’s voluminous reposting, extend and reproach the land center accessibility evaluation and mitigation project and work on supporting making the communities web sites accessible according to international standards. Additionally we worked on consolidation and updating the previous work on making sets of chants and liturgies in fonts large enough to be readable by persons with visual disabilities.
In the decade that Hamish Maclaren worked on accessibility issues in the sangha, he produced over 70 documents comprising 200 plus pages. This is good news. However the wealth of data about all dimensions of accessibility and disability in the sangha is not well organized and requires digging into intimidating detail. Our vision was to make this easily available and more useable. So to that goal we have spent the last year editing and combining the various documents into smaller, focused packages.
First we had to decide on what disabilities to focus on, Hamish had produced work on the whole spectrum from visual to ‘hidden’ disabilities (like chemical sensitivities). We decided to focus on the top three types of disabilities (motoric, aural, and visual) these constitute 80% of disabilities (the 2005 US census) in the US and we can expect pretty much the same distribution in Europe, Asia and south America. We decided to distill the documents Hamish generated into three types. The first type was a general introduction to the area of each sort of disability. It discusses the way the disability changes the person’s world, typical ways to work with making centers and electronic communication barrier free, just a general introduction that many of us never get. The format for these was in a tri-fold brochure, that centers could print out and make available.
The next type we took on was to take the plethora of accommodation and support suggestions that were in the documents and turn them into checklists, but break them down to suggestions for different sizes of meditation centers, from forming groups to Dzongs and Land practice centers. These are three to five page documents. Finally we took all the pointers in all the documents and put together a list of references, pointers to documents and URLs for each disability; these are five to fifteen pages.
Stay tuned for the next installment, coming in April. If you have more questions or would like to contact the The Accessibility and Disability Working Group, please email them at: [email protected]