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By Claire Gysegem

One year ago, the Earth shook with masses of people mobilizing for racial justice. In the wake of George Floyd’s brutal murder, relatively few spaces in this nation were left untouched by raw emotion. Southeast Ohio was no exception. Marches and rallies reached from Logan to Nelsonville, from Athens to Chesterhill.

The Athens City Commission on Disabilities is well aware of the city’s climate on advocacy and civic engagement. The County Court House steps have served as a platform for hundreds of voices on a variety of issues, and the Court Street bricks have upheld marches for Black lives, women’s rights, queer liberation, the environment, and so much more.

It is written into our purpose as a Commission to ensure “equality of opportunity and full participation in community life for everyone.” This means everybody, no matter what. No matter their mobility, no matter their sensory perceptions, no matter their cognition. It is our constitutional right to peacefully assemble, and the Commission has provided a list of resources, “Inclusion Considerations for Marches and Rallies,” to allow everyone the equal opportunity to participate.

Resources include planning tips, such as designating wheelchair seating, establishing a service animal relief area, and developing engagement for those who can’t physically march but still want to participate. Communication materials are also important to consider, including hiring an ASL interpreter, ensuring the readability of posters and pamphlets, and providing the opportunity for people to communicate their access needs ahead of time.

This resource list is available at the Athens City Police Department when filing a permit request for a rally. The resource list can also be requested by emailing the Commission at disabilitiescommission@ci.athens.oh.us. Members of the Commission are also willing to speak with organizers to ensure the accessibility of their events.

We can’t move forward as a society unless we make sure that everyone can come with us. This means making sure that the road we travel is accessible to those of all abilities, leading towards a brighter and inclusive future.

Editor’s note: Gysegem sits on the Athens City Commission on Disabilities, serving as a co-chair and on the Communications Committee.

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