For those of you who don’t know me, (which, I suspect will be many readers), I’m Sarah Dawn of Sarah Dawn Designs. I’m Toronto-based knitwear designer, and I’ve been in the knitwear design world for about a year now.
Ok, but an obvious question, why am I writing a guest post on Donna’s Blog?
Well. . . because I asked to.
See, I’m a disabled knitter. And when Donna put out a call for diverse knitters, I had to respond. There’s basically no disabled-and-out there fiber people. No. I’m not someone of colour. I am, however, part of the largest minority in the world.
Yeah. The disability community is the largest minority group in the world, and anyone, at any time, can join it. Surprised? Most people are. Estimates are between that 1 in 4 to 1 in 6 people have some form of disability. That’s a lot of people.
Wait a minute. If that’s true, why there are so few disabled fiber people?
I’m going to cause upset now. The answer is because we’re not thought of. The disability community is not yet truly integrated into the ‘diversity’ movement. Accessibility is not something most people think about. Disability is still viewed as tragic and bad – people are shocked as all hell when I tell them that my wheelchair is a ‘good thing’, giving me independence, the ability to get involved in my community, and a method of doing things safely (or at the very least, without searing pain). Couple that with the fact that the disability pride movement is still comparatively quite young, and it’s something that’s still only just starting to make waves.
Disability as something to be proud of? Wait, so then, what exactly is disability? Well, ‘to disable’ something is to shut it down, to break it, to turn it off. Those who know me know that getting me to shut up is hard, and that I’m usually very hard to ‘turn off.’ So, something here doesn’t add up? If I’m supposed to be quiet and off, and broken, but I’m not, am I disabled?
No. And Yes.
I’m not disabled by my brain, or my legs, or my mind, or any other part of me. I’m disabled, because people refuse to believe that I’m actually an entrepreneur of any kind, much less selling knitting patterns and knitwear. I’m disabled by a society where it’s perfectly acceptable to turn “my kind”* away at the door of a restaurant, movie theatre, bar, church, or school, because they can’t be bothered to be wheelchair accessible – or at the very least, have a plan for getting people who use wheels inside the building, because oh, right, there’s actually laws about that in my province. I’m disabled because I know that if there’s a fire alarm in a building, and I’m not on the ground floor, I’m very likely dead. I’m disabled by a system that says “we only had to do this because it’s the law, and we’re minimally compliant. Stop complaining.”**
So what about the fiber world, you ask?
The fiber world is much the same. Accessibility and Disability aren’t on people’s radars or really considered. Here in Toronto, there’s a plethora of yarn stores, events, and festivals. Of those, there are -no- fully accessible yarn shops, and two that are sort-of/mostly accessible. Only one shop I’ve ever seen has posted any kind of accessibility information on their website (shout out here to The Purple Purl, and if you’re ever in Toronto, give them a visit!) But there’s one big difference.
Fiber People build communities. I got the chance to listen to the Yarn Harlot talk about how fiber people really come together to build communities, when she spoke at the Toronto Knitter’s Frolic Spring Social. And she said something. She said that while fiber people build great unintentional communities, we as communities need to become more intentional.*** We (all of us, myself included) need to look at who isn’t joining our communities, and why.
This. 1000 times.
Thing is, in the fiber world, most people kinda sorta get it. If I explain that the wheelchair is a ‘good thing’, every fiber person I’ve spoken to has gotten that idea, it’s just taken some explaining. When fiber people realize their event’s not accessible, they don’t swear at me and call me lazy****, they start having conversations about what to do about it, even if they’re complete newcomers to the world of disability. Accessibility not something they’ve thought of, but when it’s brought to their attention and ex, most fiber people realize the barrier isn’t my disability, that it’s their problem in how they’ve created the event, that the problem’s in the venue they’re renting. Fiber People value their community so highly, it’s important to them that the community can do its thing, even if they don’t know how to or don’t have the resources to fix the problem.
I know that some readers of my blog and social media channels end up being very surprised when they find out I’m disabled, and a common question is ‘well, why don’t you talk about it more?’
Because those are for my knitwear. My patterns, and my work. I try, as a whole, to not use my business media channels as a soap-box for disability pride. My job as an entrepreneur is to create knitting patterns, and help create and moderate an awesome bunch of people online, not to soapbox about disability. The fiber, the yarn, the knitting, that’s what I want front-and-centre within the community I’m creating, and with my business – because that’s what I’m selling and doing! People aren’t coming to me to learn about disability, they’re (hopefully) coming to me because of my patterns, because of the community I’m slowly creating. If they learn about disability, accessibility and inclusion in the process, wonderful!
That said, I’d also be naive to say there’s no overlap. It’s why I include image descriptions on my Facebook, why I’m looking into real-time captions for web livecasts, why videos on my (upcoming) Youtube Channel will have proper captions, not the horribly inaccurate automatic captions. Accessibility for everyone as much as I possibly can is the ‘why’ behind a lot of my methods of doing things. I want people with disabilities fully integrated as much as I can into this online and offline community, and I plan for that integration right from the start of anything I do. I don’t claim to be perfect about it, I’m aware of a few ongoing things right now! But accessibility has to start at the ground up of any project, any idea, and simply saying ‘yep, I know that’s a problem right now, here’s what I’ve set up to try and work around it, does that work for you?’ is part of the definition of great customer service for any business.
Well, I’ve written a lot here, so I’ll close with this. One of the big questions I get is “why do you bother being accessible?”
My answer? “So the largest minority in the world, with approximately 1 Billion dollars in purchasing power, knows they can buy from me without problems, without their needs being thought of as a minimally-compliant afterthought. If you don’t want that money, and those customers, well, I won’t complain.”
*actual quote from a restaurant manager
**actual quote from a security guard in an office where I volunteered
*** I’m paraphrasing because I don’t remember her original and awesome words!
****This happens more often then you would probably believe, often including profanity.