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Access to Reclaiming Magic

by Fern Feto

Accessibility issues in Reclaiming have often depended on the interest or enthusiasm of particular members rather than being approached as a strand to be built into the fabric of the organization. Unfortunately, when those members' enthusiasm or energy wanes, the accessibility work goes as well.

This seems to be one of the realities of working with an all-volunteer group. This lack of consistency means that each new crew coming into Reclaiming must start over again, rather than building on the foundation of what has been done before.

My own experience of Reclaiming over the past eight years or so, in the context of being (very) hard-of-hearing has been mixed. I've found that when I have pushed for access it often becomes available. When I remind trance leaders or speakers to look at me when they are talking, or ask them to try and walk near me, seven times out of ten they remember. However the energy it takes to have to remind people becomes exhausting, and oftentimes I choose to accept what I do hear as what I need to hear rather than make the effort to try to gain more access to whatever is being said.

Having said that, I've thought of a number of ways that Reclaiming could become more accessible in a long-lasting and effective manner.

The first would be to start an accessibility fund. Assign ten percent of funds incoming to Reclaiming to this fund. It could be used to hire sign language interpreters, blind guides, etc.

Next, create a new role on the wheel, an "Accessibility Coordinator." This person would be in charge of brainstorming ways to make Reclaiming more accessible. They would document their accomplishments to pass onto the next coordinator so work done in the past is not lost.

These two ideas could merge into a paid position as an Accessibility Coordinator, someone who would really "strive to make our public rituals accessible and safe" (from the Reclaiming Principles of Unity).

If we can hire a Reclaiming Quarterly coordinator and pay Witchcamp organizers and teachers, why not spend some money on accessibility? Another way to revolutionize Reclaiming in regards to disability could involve the Witchcamp teacher recruitment process. Recruiting more teachers with disabilities would be a concrete way to demonstrate Reclaiming's commitment to diversity, lending new energy and creativity to the teaching teams.

Finally, the last (and to me, best) thing to remember is to ask those who are most affected by accessibility issues what they need or want to make Reclaiming more accessible. A question came up recently in the San Francisco Ritual Planning Cell from a teacher who had a blind student who wanted to come to the Brigid ritual. I recommended first asking the woman what she thought would be helpful. Given that she had never been to a ritual before, this was not the ideal solution, but it was a good beginning.

One of the major challenges that I see with this work, besides the difficulties of working with accessibility as an all volunteer group, is trying to make rituals, classes, etc., accessible to everyone all the time. I just don't think this is possible, since what might work well for someone who is blind may be terrible for a deaf person or someone in a wheelchair. I'd love to have some creative minds put to work on this challenge.

On an individual level, trying both to understand and to be compassionate about the emotional and physical challenges differently-abled people face is a great place for people to begin their own personal work on accessibility. Compassion without pity and the knowledge that you can never fully understand another person's experience is a place to start from.

For myself, I appreciate respectful questions about my disability, but I resent it when I feel that's the only part of me the questioner is interested in, or when I sense someone is trying to gain "points" by talking to someone who is "different." I have spoken with a number of people who identify as being "marginalized" in this society. This is a common experience for many of us, especially in alternative communities. The sense that people are trying to benefit by connecting to someone who has a difference, or that they are romanticizing the difference, is uncomfortable and off-putting.

I appreciated the comments that were made recently by two Reclaiming teachers who had a blind student. They said that they were being challenged to create their magic and classes in a "new" way. They seemed to see their student's participation in their class as an opportunity to grow in a new direction magically rather than as a difference to be "accommodated."

This may be a good topic to address in more detail in some public Reclaiming forum. Maybe an accessibility survey distributed in Reclaiming Quarterly would be a way to start this questioning process throughout the organization, rather than it being isolated in the individual Reclaiming cells. I know I for one would benefit from this discussion.

Fern Feto is an astrologer, activist, and Reclaiming teacher who is (very) hard of hearing.