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Thursday, September 8, 2011

Shared knowledge makes the Accessibility Guidelines document strong

On September 7, 2011, the Board of Equual Access approved a document entitled “Accessibility Guidelines for Unitarian Universalist Congregations: Creating Welcoming Congregations for People of all Abilities.” After the vote, the document was uploaded to the Equual Access website. This was a project of the Equual Access Policy Committee, of which I am the chair.

The writing of this document has been in process for many months. One of the things that make this an especially strong statement of accessibility is that a number of people contributed significantly to its production. The first pass at a document used a very different spreadsheet format, which was hard for blind people to read and for others to understand. This simply wouldn’t do - an accessibility document that was not accessible was unacceptable! Using input and suggestions from reviewers, the document was recast into its present form and the members of the Policy Committee each took on responsibility for writing parts of the document using their own knowledge and research.

Policy Committee member Rachel Klein wrote an excellent section on history and legislation. Policy Committee member Cynthia Parkhill wrote the section on Advocacy, and also pointed out that the needs of people using a printed copy of the document were different from those using an on-line copy. This resulted in having two different versions, one for print and one for online use. Policy Committee member Michael Sallwasser was instrumental in creating the structure for the document writing the section on creating a Welcoming Environment.

The document benefited from the reviews and comments we arranged for. When we had made our first pass at the document, we made the document available to people on the access-l list-serve and members of Equual Access for review and comment. I was very pleased when a number of people made significant efforts to review the document. This resulted in covering things that needed to be added to or improved upon the first draft; examples are sections on service animals, on developmental disabilities, on deaf culture and on hidden disabilities. We had the blessing of having an excellent copy editor for whom this was a labor of love.

When we had questions about how to cover a particular issue, I looked through the membership of Equual Access and contacted someone who had an interest in that issue. An example: I requested that several blind Equual Access members take a look at one of our drafts to see if they saw a problem with its accessibility from their point of view.

We expect that as the document is used, we will get questions about clarifying something, adding something, or some other aspect of its usefulness. We welcome these comments, as we have learned that making its production a shared process makes the document stronger and more useful. We want to thank everyone who participated in its production now and in the future.

Rev. Barbara F. Meyers
Community Minister
Mission Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregation
38132 Kimbro Street, Fremont, CA 94536

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