Vibrant Visual Artist & Educator

April Marie Mai
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Unintentional Exclusion is Still Exclusion

We don't usually see the hurdles we've put up that aren't hurdles to us. Arts and other types of organizations are often selecting for things they aren't intending to, and in the process losing access to applicants that could be a great fit.
Detail photograph of "Forest," an impasto abstract painting with blues, greens, white, and yellow.
Detail photograph of "Forest," an impasto abstract painting with blues, greens, white, and yellow.

When organizations don’t offer any accommodations for disabled people, they are selecting for compliance, not for having the best pool of applicants.

Yes, this means deadlines that are precise and remove the ability to apply on the dot are inherently excluding disabled people. It means requiring artists to do the physical install or paint walls is inherently excluding disabled people. It means forms that are not specific and clear are excluding disabled people. It means anything that inherently selects for nondisabled people, even if it is on accident, is excluding disabled people. It means teachers who do not accommodate disabled people are excluding them.

Do I kick myself mentally repeatedly when I barely miss the requirements for something that didn’t have to be strict requirements? Yes, over and over and over. I own my part in it, if I had one. I missed an opportunity that was very important to me by 10 min because I prioritized the feelings of someone I don’t even know over my own needs, and I regret doing that deeply and wish I could go back and do things differently. I made the wrong choice and it cost me. But it was their choice to remove the ability to apply at all at that point. It tells me what they prioritize, and it’s difficult not to come to the conclusion that I didn’t belong anyway.

Every choice an organization makes shows whether they value including disabled people or not. Added up they paint a picture. It might not be the picture that they intend to paint. Because our survival depends partly on identifying where we are and aren’t wanted and leaving spaces that don’t welcome us, in a different way than it does for nondisabled people, we have to be sensitive to all those unspoken messages and listen to them as much or more than what is said. It doesn’t matter if you intend to include us if you’re effectively excluding us. So hire disabled people to find those hurdles you’ve accidentally put in the way so you can remove them. You don’t see them and you won’t see them because you can easily jump them. Make sure your requirements are what you intend them to be, so you get the best and most diverse group of applicants.

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