Access and Anxiety

Anxiety and some kinds of neurodivergence can make the uncertainty inherent in an event a real barrier to participation. These sorts of issues can be easily overlooked and can result in excluding people who could have participated with the right support. Accessibility isn’t just about whether a person can physically get into the space, barriers are not just about bodies.

I’m no great expert on neurodivergence. My understanding is that unfamiliar things, changes to routines, and other kinds of uncertainty can be immensely stressful for some neurodivergent people. Knowing things in advance so as to be able to feel prepared can make a great deal of odds and reduces anxiety.

I do know a fair bit about anxiety. Given an empty space, the anxious brain will just go ahead and plug in disasters. The more you know, the less room there is to unleash the panic weasels, and the more manageable the situation becomes.

What kind of thing a person needs to know about is probably going to be quite variable. Based on what I’ve seen around event organising, the most important thing is not to be complacent around requests for information. Don’t assume people are being unreasonable or demanding if they need to know about something ahead of time. Also, they probably aren’t going to tell you if they have sensitivity issues caused by autism, or a hard time imagining unfamiliar things, or are checking to avoid trauma triggers, or need to stop their brain from coming up with a hundred potential disasters.

If you don’t know exactly how something is going to work, tell people what you do know – try and work out what the limits are. Consider asking if there’s any kind of information they need. Make it ok for people to step out if something turns out to be too much for them. Actively support people whose psychological needs are different from your own and don’t expect everyone to be the same.

It shouldn’t matter why people are asking for information and help – in that we should not have to be persuaded they have a specific need in order to act on requests like these.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

9 responses to “Access and Anxiety

  • Helen Bell

    Yep – this is a huge issue for some neurodivergent folks. Knowing as much as possible about what is likely to happen is helpful as are alternative communication options ( this is from my point of view – plenty of others will have different needs). I think understanding more about people’s different problems would help a lot – if young people get used to being around all sorts of different people they don’t grow up thinking it’s weird or being scared of disability.
    Also, sometimes access is just seen as a tick box thing for organisers – they say they are accessible but don’t really expect disabled people to turn up.

  • neptunesdolphins

    I agree. My son’s anxiety levels in a crowd is so how that he has not gone for the vaccine. Too many people. Too small a space. No place to be calm.

  • Donnalee of Kingston NY

    Yeah, the weirdest-seeming things can make things very hard for me, like noise and crowds and movement, to the point that sometimes when I move my eyes–like if I am talking or thinking and someone interrupts me and I look at them, or over at a loud scary noise or fast action–it wipes the thoughts right out of brain and I just stand there blank. Oh well, but not always safe in public–

  • lornasmithers

    I get this. As an autistic person who struggles with anxiety I function best at events with a clear programme through which I can plan exactly where I will be, what I will be doing, and with who, so I can prepare myself for most outcomes. I am no good at all with open-ended, unpredictable, more social events.

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