Tag Archives: diversity

Roundup: On Accessible & Inclusive Conferences & Meetings

Accessible? Twist handle, then pull

I just returned from the annual meeting for the Medical Library Association, where multiple discussions arose around what would it look like to expand what is done to make the conference both accessible and inclusive. [Yes, the image at the head of this post is an actual photo from the actual meeting.] Just a couple weeks before that I was privileged to attend “Cripping” the Comic Con 2019 which was, by FAR, a truly exemplary model for how to create an inclusive event. (I’m hoping to write a second post about what blew my mind so much about CripCon!) Pretty much the same topic also arose in one of my Facebook groups, Teaching Disability Studies, where several of the resources mentioned here where shared.

Since my organization (UofM) has done some work in creating resources around this, and since I was on the original committee that created our resource, I volunteered to share that resource with MLA and put together a collection of selected resources related to this topic. The resources collected here are organized alphabetically within section (resources, readings) by either the author or providing organization. Organizations represented in the post include:
– ABA (American Bar Association)
– ACM SIGACCESS
– ADA National Network
– ASAN (Autism Self Advocacy Network)
– New York State
– Ohio State University
– Syracuse University
– University of Arizona
– University of British Columbia
– University of Michigan
– Vera Institute of Justice

RESOURCES

ABA Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice. Planning Accessible Meetings and Events, a Toolkit https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/mental_physical_disability/Accessible_Meetings_Toolkit.authcheckdam.pdf

You want to know what the lawyers think about what you should do? Well, start here. This 22 page PDF provides a number of thoughtful strategies to promote accessibility and inclusion in events, from working with attendees and presenters in an interactive way to plan the best possible event to post-event surveys designed to elicit information on accessibility improvements needed for future events. I’ve been working in disability spaces and communities most of my life, and they had suggestions that were new to me. I have some more work to do. This one is a must read.

ACM SIGACCESS. Accessible Conference Guide. https://www.sigaccess.org/welcome-to-sigaccess/resources/accessible-conference-guide/

It’s a bit amazing to me how each of these guides has something wonderful and necessary that I missed seeing or which wasn’t included in the other guides. This one includes discussions around making events safe for people with migraines, having drinking straws available, and where can a service dog relieve themselves with causing problems for the event. They point out that simply asking for a sign language translator doesn’t tell you which version of sign language the viewer needs, since there are regional and country variations which can be quite significant. They include example draft language for eliciting accommodation requests from attendees, registration, formatting your promotion material PDFs accessibly, and having a triage plan in case problems arise. This document is updated regularly, and this newest version was just updated a few weeks ago (April 2019). Note that they also have an Accessible Writing Guide and an Accessible Presentation Guide. Must read.

ADA National Network. A Planning Guide for Making Temporary Events Accessible to People With Disabilities. https://adata.org/publication/temporary-events-guide

Okay, this thing has chapters. I mean, CHAPTERS. That tells you something. In some ways, it’s almost too detailed. However, it also focuses almost exclusively on physical factors (venue, parking, toilets) and has very little on the interaction or experience. While this is highly detailed, the intended audience seems to be focused on government or community event planners, and not for professional events or conferences. This is more of a basic introduction to what is involved, and is intended for broad audiences. Also available as a 61 page PDF and a 119 page large print PDF.

ASAN: Planning Accessible and Inclusive Organizing Trainings: Strategies for Decreasing Barriers to Participation for People with I/DD https://autisticadvocacy.org/resources/accessibility/ PDF: https://autisticadvocacy.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/White-Paper-Planning-Accessible-and-Inclusive-Organizing-Trainings.pdf

While several of the other resources listed here focus primarily on physical barriers to inclusion, this document is absolutely essential for those with sensory integration concerns or learning disabilities. It explains and describes the impacts of such factors as loud or unpredictable noise, motion, and other stimuli; unpredictable events; abstract or overly-complex language; speaking spontaneously (or putting people in situations where they are expected to improvise their reactions); body language; touch; and much more. It includes information on scheduling that describes the need for breaks, use of plain language content, color communication badges, and the risks to the audience of some popular presentation engagement strategies. This is the only of the resources listed here to richly describe the role of support persons in events. I doubt it would be possible to plan an inclusive event sensitive to any of these issues without, at a minimum, reading a document like this one, or being close to someone who shares these issues and concerns. A must read.

New York State, Department of Health: People First: How To Plan Events Everyone Can Attend https://www.health.ny.gov/publications/0956/

This is a lovely document which includes both high level thinking around accessible events as well as fairly detailed specifics. This is one of few of these types of resources that spends time on the importance of developing a formal policy with specifications for events, and has suggestions for approaching the development of a policy if your organization lacks one. It includes nitty-gritty suggestions, such as “Plan for 30% more meeting space when 10% or more of the participants will use mobility aids,” having ramps to the stages, and how to look for tripping hazards. Absolutely a must read. Also available as a 13-page PDF.

Ohio State University: Composing Access, An invitation to creating accessible events https://u.osu.edu/composingaccess/

Includes information on making accessible presentations, including live-streaming and handouts (when, why, and how), as well as the expected accessibility thoughts and practices for conference organizers. Includes resources; ways to encourage attendees to act as advocates for accessibility and inclusion; descriptions and videos for creative practices like interaction badges, quiet rooms, “crip time,” and more.

Syracuse University: A Guide to Planning Inclusive Events, Seminars, and Activities at Syracuse University http://sudcc.syr.edu/resources/event-guide.html

Available only as a 27 page accessible PDF. This exceptionally detailed resource is far too rich a resource to do justice to in a brief description. Syracuse is the home of Cripping the Comic Con, and it is clear that they have really put considerable time and thought into not only conceptualizing accessible events, but putting this into practice, seeking feedback, and learning from experience. It has four appendices, of which the most essential, to my mind, is Diane Wiener’s example introduction in Appendix B. In addition to the usual content (planning, venue, promotion, and presentation) this guide includes prudent practices for inclusive use of language, use of images and media, the role of environment (fragrance, sound/noise, lights, color), and much more. This is my own preferred go-to guide for starting with this. I guess that means I should mark it a must read, too.

University of Arizona: A Guide to Planning Accessible and Inclusive Events https://drc.arizona.edu/planning-events/guide-planning-accessible-and-inclusive-events

A short example of how to write a resource like this for a campus community. Includes a brief but helpful section on how to train event support staff.

University of British Columbia: Checklist for Accessible Event Planning https://equity.ok.ubc.ca/resources/checklist-for-accessible-event-planning/

Exactly what it says — a collection of terse reminders of what should be remembered. Includes roughly 60 entries in 7 categories (planning, marketing, transportation, space, programming, catering, final). Available as a 9 page PDF download.

University of Michigan: Ten Tips for Inclusive Meetings https://hr.umich.edu/working-u-m/workplace-improvement/office-institutional-equity/americans-disabilities-act-information/ten-tips-inclusive-meetings

This information in this resource is presented in a layered fashion for ease of access, action, and remembering, similar to the UBC checklist. The ten tips are very short, focusing on major areas to consider, but include links to richer information for those willing to explore more deeply. The design stresses retention and adoption of the concepts by making them easy to access and simple to remember. Main areas included are scheduling, accessible presentations, promotion, restrooms, food and drink, personal assistance, offsite participation, representation, transportation and navigation, and options for help for event planning and management.

Vera Institute for Justice: Designing Accessible Events for People with Disabilities and Deaf Individuals https://www.vera.org/publications/designing-accessible-events-for-people-with-disabilities-and-deaf-individuals

This isn’t a guide or a checklist. This is a toolkit, and boy, does it have a lot of different tools. They have several different tip sheets focusing on special aspects of meetings and events, from registration to budgeting, and including venues and how the meeting itself is handled. They even have a tip sheet for working with Sign Language Interpreters, and how to develop successful contracts with hotel management (which sounds worth its weight in gold). These aren’t one page tip sheets, though. The tip sheet for designing accessible registration is 7 page long. That’s a lot of tips. These are so well done that countless other disability organizations host copies on their own websites and recommend them for their own audiences and clients. These are another must read.

Additional resources & examples

ACS-ALA, Accessibility and Libraries, October 4, 2017. Rough edited CART copy (Webinar transcript). https://docs.google.com/document/d/1JIVc5-QcvBb74AitQXrnFfHReYk6nnKez3gR33llHvU/edit

ALA Annual: Accessibility https://2019.alaannual.org/general-information/accessibility

Inclusion BC: How-to Make Your Event More Inclusive https://inclusionbc.org/our-resources/how-to-make-your-event-more-inclusive-2/ PDF: https://inclusionbc.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Makeyoureventinclusive.pdf

NCCSD Clearinghouse and Resource Library: Inclusive Event Planning https://www.nccsdclearinghouse.org/inclusive-event-planning.html

WorldCon 76: https://www.worldcon76.org/member-services/accessibility

TO READ

This is a twitter thread from a few weeks back that “won Twitter,” as in it went viral, with 144 replies, 294 Retweets, and 1,562 Likes. It began with Alex Haagaard’s mention of their own accommodation requests at conferences, and resulted in a highly educational thread of accommodations people need or wish they could request at conferences. I recommend reading this thread for any conference planners or organizers.

MORE

“If part of what we train our students to do is enter into scholarly conversations, how we go about that conversation in our own professional settings matters.”
Accessibility at ASECS and Beyond: A Guest Post by Dr. Jason Farr and Dr. Travis Chi Wing Lau https://asecsgradcaucus.wordpress.com/2019/02/21/accessibility-at-asecs-and-beyond-a-guest-post-by-dr-jason-farr-and-dr-travis-chi-wing-lau/
Includes: “Toward a More Accessible Conference Presentation” https://drive.google.com/file/d/1xzGyfVlMRUwZMjuZ6mef87OXCIfN3uiW/view

“Use the microphone: this gets repeated dozens of times on Twitter every conference for at least the last five years. I guess I’ll just say: yes, abled people, using a microphone indicates that you are considerate of D/deaf and hard-of-hearing folks, and suggesting that others do is beneficial to the audience.”
S. Bryce Kozla. Accessibility and Conference Presentations https://brycekozlablog.blogspot.com/2018/01/accessibility-and-conference.html

“But I believe that losing my hearing was one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received. You see, I get to experience the world in a unique way. And I believe that these unique experiences that people with disabilities have is what’s going to help us make and design a better world for everyone — both for people with and without disabilities. … I stumbled upon a solution that I believe may be an even more powerful tool to solve some of the world’s greatest problems, disability or not. And that tool is called design thinking.”
When we design for disability, we all benefit | Elise Roy https://www.ted.com/talks/elise_roy_when_we_design_for_disability_we_all_benefit?language=en

On Facebook and Uncomfortable Ideas

Last night’s moonlight through the window, filtered to make the black photo visible

I’m going to say something unpopular and uncomfortable. Mark Zuckerberg is getting a lot of flack for his comment in the Recode interview about Holocaust deniers. As a librarian, I see that what he’s really talking about is CENSORSHIP.

“I also think that going to someone who is a victim of Sandy Hook and telling them, “Hey, no, you’re a liar” — that is harassment, and we actually will take that down. But overall, let’s take this whole closer to home…

I’m Jewish, and there’s a set of people who deny that the Holocaust happened.

I find that deeply offensive. But at the end of the day, I don’t believe that our platform should take that down because I think there are things that different people get wrong. I don’t think that they’re intentionally getting it wrong, but I think-… It’s hard to impugn intent and to understand the intent.” Mark Zuckerberg, Recode Interview

People are latching onto the small concept and missing the big picture. It was an example, not necessarily a specific. It was an example of something that deeply offends him, but which he is refusing to censor. It was about trying to create a place for unpopular and uncomfortable ideas and conversations, about embracing differences. Ideally, that would be a safe place, an open space, a respectful place, but there’s a lot of people in the world, and I don’t know that very many of them are consistently able to have conversations that are safe, open, and respectful on topics that connect to their fears and wounds.

Think for a minute about ideas that each of us hold which are problematic for others, and what would happen if we applied the same criteria for exclusion to our ideas and voices as we do to the ideas of others that make us feel bad. I have friends who are right wing, and left wing; LGBT, and conservative Christians; scientists, and astrologers; kink aficionados, and asexual survivors of child sexual abuse; highly educated researchers & writers, and people with learning disabilities or from underprivileged and under-resourced backgrounds and communities. My hope is this diversity of people will encourage conversation and awareness across the divides, that we can and will LEARN from people whose thoughts and experiences are different from our own, that we can encourage flexibility and examination and questioning of what is or is not a good trusted information source and why.

So, Facebook isn’t perfect, and people aren’t perfect, and Mark Zuckerberg isn’t perfect, and I’m not perfect. I respect that Zuke is trying. I respect that it is basically impossible to define a conceptual boundary, a line in the sand, for what can and can’t be posted here, without causing harm. There is harm if the line is too loose or too tight. It needs to be a blurry boundary. We need to give people the benefit of a doubt. We need to assume that most people are at heart good people with good intentions, and create opportunities to inform them and ourselves, hopefully creating opportunities to change minds and hearts.

If we tell people they can’t be here, they’ll go somewhere else, and we won’t know who they are, or what they think, or why they think that. We won’t know what they are doing, or what they are planning. We will be creating additional darkness, for unwelcome ideas to fester and turn dangerous.

Zuckerberg had a great response that isn’t getting as much attention as the original remark.

“Our goal with fake news is not to prevent anyone from saying something untrue — but to stop fake news and misinformation spreading across our services. If something is spreading and is rated false by fact checkers, it would lose the vast majority of its distribution in News Feed. And of course if a post crossed line into advocating for violence or hate against a particular group, it would be removed. These issues are very challenging but I believe that often the best way to fight offensive bad speech is with good speech.” Mark Zuckerberg Clarifies, Recode

I don’t know about you, but I’m on Zuckerberg’s side with this.

Insights into the Lived Healthcare Experiences of the Transgendered (#TransHealthFail)

#TransHealthFail

#TransHealthFail

Several years ago, I was in an elevator with a then-local clinician (no longer here) who was complaining to me about how unhappy he was with his clinical practice. He had bought into the practice from another clinician who was retiring, and it wasn’t until he moved here and began actually working there that he discovered half of his patients were transgendered. I still remember how his face twisted up into a knot and his beard waggled as he snarled with disgust about being forced to treat “THOSE people.” He told me, “You don’t know. THEY are EVERYWHERE around here! How could I expect that?” I got out of the elevator as soon as I could. And then I started trying to plan a trans education event for our library. It took some years to be able to make it happen.

I was so excited when I heard about the Trans Health Fail hashtag during the Stanford Medicine X conference. I’ve been wanting to blog about it for a couple months, and finally it is happening. The post is divided into four sections: reports of experiences (mostly with insurance, staff, and clinicians); longer personal testimonials; healthcare reactions; and popular media. There is even a section where trans people have given kudos to the absence of failure, when folk have gotten it right. Most important take-away lessons to learn? Names are important (not just for people who are transgendered, but perhaps especially for them). Privacy is important. Respect is important. Information is important. Access to care is life-saving. Another big part of the conversation centers around the high mortality of transgendered persons, both from violence, and stigma. The basic assumption of what SHOULD be happening in healthcare gets back to “First do no harm.” A lot of the perceived harms which are described could be changed fairly easily just by better education of healthcare professionals of all sorts, and the office and support staff in healthcare facilities. Some of them make complete sense to professionals working inside the healthcare system, but obviously did not to the person on the other side. If you haven’t yet noticed this conversation, it’s worth taking a few minutes to explore. It could save lives. And if you are a healthcare provider who actually can and will treat transgender persons, please be aware of the Provider Self-Input Form for the Trans & Queer Referral Aggregator Database from RAD Remedy

LIVED EXPERIENCES

LIVED EXPERIENCES: Access to Care

!! https://twitter.com/TGGuide/status/629892052914991104

LIVED EXPERIENCES: Insurance

LIVED EXPERIENCES: Healthcare Environments & Systems

LIVED EXPERIENCES: Supporting Roles

LIVED EXPERIENCES: Clinicians

!! https://twitter.com/anaphylaxus/status/639815813495701504

LIVED EXPERIENCES: Children

LIVED EXPERIENCES: Done Right

TESTIMONIES

HEALTHCARE RESPONSE

MEDIA ATTENTION

Atlantic

BitchMedia ??

Buzzfeed

Cosmopolitan

DailyBeast

DailyDot

Distractify

FacesOfHealthCare

Feministing

Fusion

HuffPostGay

HuffPost

Indiana

MarySue

Mashable

Metronews Canada

Mother Jones

NewNowNext

Patient Opinion

Vice

#WHDemoDay and #ADAinitiative — Oh, the Irony


Welcome to Demo Day at the White House! (Megan Smith, the First US Chief Technology Officer) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PxGrDsuwCFk

“It’s a tradition in the tech community to show off amazing things that people have built. … All Americans do this. All American are capable of this. And it’s a big part of our future, and it’s always been a big part of our past.”

Yesterday was a landmark day in diversity and inclusion.

Yesterday saw the first ever White House Demo Day (#WHDemoDay), for women and minority entrepreneurs and innovators to ‘pitch’ their ideas to President Obama.

Yesterday saw the end of the ADA Initiative, “a feminist organization. We strive to serve the interests and needs of women in open technology and culture who are at the intersection of multiple forms of oppression, including disabled women, women of color, LBTQ women, and women from around the world.” (Ada Initiative, About Us)

How enormously ironic to see the closing of the one with the opening of the other, and both with such closely related missions. I can only hope that this first White House Demo Day proves to be one of many, and that the effort continues to embrace and support diversity as essential to American creativity and innovation.

White House Demo Day

The White House Demo Day had demonstrations to illustrate the diversity of people contributing to the innovation that helps strengthen the American economy. Most of the companies presenting had at least one woman founder or co-founder. Almost as many of the companies presenting had a founder that is a person of color or who shows ethnic or cultural diversity. The two companies represented by white men were (1) military, and (2) a winner of the XPRIZE. There were a few wonderful presenters from Michigan, including Ann-Marie Sastry of the University of Michigan Ann Arbor talking about her innovations in batteries and power storage. Products presented included new search engines based on cognitive models, medical innovations in cancer / HIV / aging / asthma, parenting tools, strategies for empowering patients, creative ways to repay student loans, several on converting ‘waste’ to profit, and much more. There was even Zoobean, who partner with libraries to recommend books and apps based on children’s preferences.

White House Demo Day

Part of what made this so wonderful (and why I wish I’d heard about it sooner) was the move to encourage parallel events across the country. I wish we’d done this here! Here are some tweets about the high points.

Read about the presenters here. Listen to the pitches here.


President Obama Hosts the First-Ever White House Demo Day https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aKsxHS5vptM

White House Demo Day: https://www.whitehouse.gov/demo-day

Ada Initiative

“When the Ada Initiative was founded in 2011, the environment for women in open technology and culture was extremely hostile. Conference anti-harassment policies were rare outside of certain areas in fandom, and viewed as extremist attempts to muzzle free speech. Pornography in slides was a regular feature at many conferences in these areas, as were physical and sexual assault. Most open tech/culture communities didn’t have an understanding of basic feminist concepts like consent, tone policing, and intersectional oppression.” https://adainitiative.org/2015/08/announcing-the-shutdown-of-the-ada-initiative/

The Ada Initiative began by trying to change the world for women in STEM and tech. They stopped, but not without having made change, and not without leaving a permanent legacy. You’ll see tributes and comments below to testify to this, but you’ll also see links to some of the content they made open source and Creative Commons in order to help perpetuate their work, as well as work from some of their partners who carry on the good message and work. By the way, their open source toolkits are absolutely incredible and well worth downloading.

HOWTO design a code of conduct for your community https://adainitiative.org/2014/02/howto-design-a-code-of-conduct-for-your-community/
Code of conduct evaluations http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Code_of_conduct_evaluations

Announcing the ADA Camp Toolkit: https://adainitiative.org/2015/07/add-a-little-bit-of-adacamp-to-your-event-announcing-the-adacamp-toolkit/

ADACamp Toolkit: https://adacamp.org/
– Inclusive event catering: https://adacamp.org/adacamp-toolkit/inclusive-event-catering/
– Providing conference childcare: https://adacamp.org/adacamp-toolkit/childcare/
– Quiet room: https://adacamp.org/adacamp-toolkit/quiet-room/
– Supporting d/Deaf and hard of hearing people at an unconference: https://adacamp.org/adacamp-toolkit/supporting-deaf-people/

Where the Weird Things Are

So, when I got back from my trip to MLA, I went to work, and this weird thing happened.

See what I mean? And it did feel weird. I was talking to someone today about why it felt weird, and it’s basically because I’m not doing anything that special, nothing that I don’t know perfectly well people all around me are also doing. So why not give them ALL awards, eh? The parable (or parallel) I have is weddings, graduations, and such. They aren’t for YOU. The marriage is for you, but the wedding is for your friends and family. The degree and what you do with it is for you, but the graduation ceremony is for your friends and family. Right? The award is less about anything I’ve done, at least in my mind, and more about saying in a public way that all of you who are doing the same kind of cool things, YAY for you! YAY for us! Keep doing it, that’s the kind of stuff we want in our community. Does that make any kind of sense?

Ironically, I had just returned (at about 1:30AM that morning!) from a conference in Austin, where the slogan is, “Austin. Keeping it weird.” I had officially heard about the award that morning, and a bunch of colorful ideas flooded into my mind. I thought I’d say a few words, and that idea got … well … I got carried away. Evidently, whatever I said was OK, because some folk told me, “Whoa! You went all “The Moth” on us!” Other people came up afterwards and said, “Me, too.” Since then, individuals have been telling me they were hearing others talking about it. And I was asked to try to write some of it down and blog it. I’m kind of murky on what exactly I said, but I do still have the approximately 25 words of notes that I scribbled down in the morning. So here goes, not trying to remember word-for-word, but generally trying to keep the same tone and feeling.

JUST A FEW WORDS

I just got back from Austin, where the local badge of pride is reflected in the slogan, “Keeping it weird.” I was looking at tshirts to bring back to the family, and noticed one that I just had to get for myself. (I was actually wearing it at the celebration, but no one could see it becauseI had other garments over it.) The one I had to get was a parody-slash-mashup of Where the Wild Things Are.

Wild Things

The tshirt said, “Where the Weird Things Are.” Of course, I had to get it! Books, right? Right!

Where the weird things are

So they told me that morning that I was going to get the Diversity Award today. I was thinking about weirdness, who’s weird, what does it mean to be weird, how does weirdness tie in with diversity. There was a trending hashtag on Twitter, #DescribeYourselfIn3Words. My first reaction was, “Well, that’s not very diverse! Three words isn’t very much to describe any of us. But I tried. I did it twice. That’s six words. I suppose that’s probably cheating? Here’s what I called myself.

#DescribeYourselfIn3Words: Militant Moderate Librarian

First, I said, “Militant moderate librarian.” To me, this describes my identity, that I am a librarian down to the bone, deep in my soul, and my view of what it means to be a librarian: unbiased by intention and determination. It’s a LOT of work.

#DescribeYourselfIn3Words: Inspire, Be Inspired

Next, I said, “Inspire, be inspired,” which I see as my job description, and I know that many of us working here in this library system feel the same way. I adopted that one from Hugh McLeod, “Gapingvoid.” I saw this years ago, when I was new to being the Emerging Technologies Librarian, and had just gotten my income tax refund, so indulged (HUGELY, this was a BIG indulgence for me) and bought it. It hangs on my wall right now, where I will see it every single day. It means a lot to me.

Gapingvoid: Inspire, Be Inspired

So, while three words aren’t very many, especially in the sense of describing an entire complete unique quirky diverse individual or community, but maybe they can serve as a kind of mission/vision statement, or emotional touchstone.

Library Diversity Celebration: Walk in my shoes.

The theme of today’s event is “Walk in My Shoes.” I’ve been walking around, looking at the displays, reading the signs, reading the stories. They’re pretty amazing. The grandmother who was a ballerina? I love that one. James’ story about the shoes that make you more wonderful when you believe in them? Powerful! Here are my shoes.

My Shoes

Down at the conference in Austin, someone told me they are great classic librarian shoes. Yeah. Boo hiss. I wasn’t too happy, either. I told him these are not so much librarian shoes as medical prescription shoes. I have foot orthotics, and foot pain. I wear these shoes because the orthotics fit into them and because they don’t hurt as much. Before I wore foot orthotics, I had some beautiful shoes. Purple, green, red. Hightops colored like blueberries and lined with soft terrycloth. Deep purple Converse hightops my daughter gave me for my 50th birthday. Spiked heels striped with earth tones. Elegant flats decorated with clip on red and black accents. Tennis shoes that belong in a Brooklyn Museum: Rise of Sneaker Culture, decorated and carved with geisha, comics, flowers, leaves. Leaving footprints that reveal an ukiyo-e kiss.

New Green Shoes: StitcheryNew Green Shoes: Light and Shadow

I love my old shoes. Sometimes I loved them so much that they would wear out, the sole would tear off, and I would save them for years trying to find another pair. Now, I wear old lady librarian shoes, the same pair, all day, every day. And I have a closet of beautiful shoes I can’t wear, but can’t bear to give away, at least not yet.

Curiously, shoes are how I first got into diversity. Really! How many of you remember Highlights Magazine for Children? It had a very distinctive style of art work, and the stories were all educational and/or morally uplifting.

chatold woman with fishbowl and goose

My parents always had a subscription to this, as long as we had kids in the appropriate age ranges, and we had a lot of kids. It must have been when I was very young, just learning to read, when I saw a story about learning to “walk in another man’s moccasins,” only they called it the “in the skin game.” I thought this sounded fantastic, fascinating, amazing! The story asked the children to stop and imagine what the other person in the story might be feeling, where they came from, what their family was like, what was going on that wasn’t visible that made them act the way they did. The story came to an end, but the game didn’t. I found it so deeply engaging and fascinating, I kept doing it. People watching. Trying to understand. Evidently, I never really learned to turn it off!

Lately I’ve been doing a lot of reading about what is called Intergenerational Transmission of Trauma (IGTT). Sometimes it’s called Transgenerational Transmission of Trauma (TGTT).

Google Scholar Search: (“intergenerational transmission of trauma” OR “transgenerational transmission of trauma” OR “inter-generational transmission of trauma” OR “trans-generational transmission of trauma”)

Briefly, the idea is that a predisposition to experiencing traumatic events is passed along from parent to child, like a baton in a race, handed on from generation to generation.

“The idea that a parental traumatic experience could reach the second generation soon gained consistency. Clinical studies reported a wide range of affective and emotional symptoms transmitted over generations: distrust of the world, impaired parental function, chronic sorrow, inability to communicate feelings, an ever-present fear of danger, pressure for educational achievement, separation anxiety, lack of entitlement, unclear boundaries, and overprotectiveness within a narcissist family system.” (Braga, Mello, Fiks, 2012)

Most of the research on this idea has been done in easily identifiable communities which have experienced severe trauma in a generational context. African American families that experienced slavery. Jewish and Polish families of Holocaust survivors. Native American or First People families. Families of war and combat veterans. Refugees. With domestic violence it’s harder to identify a research study cohort, but they’re looking at this, too.

All around the room heads were nodding. How many of us have families that have experienced trauma? How many of us have families that have NOT experienced trauma?

When the research first started, they believed that the process of transmission, of passing along the trauma, came from children imitating the behaviors and beliefs of the parents, or that the parents (consciously or unconsciously) taught the children maladaptive ways to respond to the world, based on their own experiences of trauma. Now, researchers are starting to believe it runs deeper than that. Research is leaning towards the idea that significant trauma of these sorts can literally rewrite our genes, and can change what genes are preferentially passed on to our children. I’ll do another blogpost about this, but just try searching epigenetics of trauma to dip into the literature.

The gist of the idea is that the experience of trauma causes changes to many of our body’s systems, most importantly the immune system, hormone levels (especially cortisol), as well as the brain and nervous system. To put it even more briefly, trauma early in our life or our parent’s lives can make us more likely to get sick physically later, to develop mental illness, and to respond to life in ways that make us more likely to experience trauma ourselves. The changes to the brain either make it so people over react to potentially threatening environments, or under-react. Either way, it puts them (us?) at heightened risk through a response that is out of sync with the actual threat level.

Our friends and colleagues who come from cultures rich in traumatic pasts may still be experiencing things in their own lives that were shaped generations ago. Does that mean that IGTT gives everyone with a familial history of trauma a “get out of jail free” card for responsibility for our own actions? Not exactly. Yes, we have to understand how this shapes trauma across generations, and shapes the actions of people now. Sometimes I’ll ask people, “Be a little more understanding of this lady, she’s in severe pain pretty much all the time, and that’s why she’s a little short tempered. Be patient.” That idea applies here, too. None of us know what the other person is going through, what they have gone through, what their parents or grandparents went through. I wonder how my life might have been different if my mother hadn’t been badly abused as a child, if her mother hadn’t been subjected to extreme prejudice and poverty through racism, if my dad’s dad hadn’t had addictions, and so forth. I might have been a completely different person. I expect most of us have something in our family histories along these lines. There are tales that are not passed along, at least verbally, but they still show in our genes. It can hurt you, even if you never knew it happened.

The good news is that our genes and our family history can ALSO foster resilience! And that for the epigenetic changes we’ve been passing along from generation to generation, we CAN begin to break the cycle. Here are some things that seem to be helping in some communities (with more details and sources coming in another blogpost):

a nurturing social environment;
especially giving added nurturing early in life;
providing safe places and spaces;
giving future at-risk parents support and training in parenting before they become parents;
teaching resilience, appropriate responses to stress and threat;
teaching how and when to trust, building social decisionmaking skills;
giving and modeling genuine healthy attachments, love, and caring;
identifying and dealing with the trauma;
and sleep.

We’re still learning what works, and what works best. To me, it sounds like a big part of the issues of IGTT tie directly into the vision and missions of diversity initiatives in corporations and enterprises all across the world.

Know the problem.
Say the problem.
Change the things that made the problem.

Isn’t this one part of why we have diversity initiatives? Partly to try to fix the problems, partly to stop perpetuating the problems, and partly because there are so many wonderful people and wonderful possibilities that we miss out on when we aren’t including different points of views and different kinds of people. All three of those impact on the day to day life for all of us. Fixing the problems helps reduce crime, improve health, reduce costs, improve creativity, and ultimately improve resilience across our entire society.

To tie this all up, where are the weird things? Well, not just in Austin, that’s for sure. We are all of us weird, just some of us are more weird than others. And that’s ok, as long as we accept it, and make a safe space for everyone. So.

Where the weird things are?

Here.

Here, is where the weird things are.
Us, we are the weird things.

My New (Gapingvoid) Tshirt! (And my job description) 150529