Stand-up comedy and accessibility during Pandemic and beyond

I am autistic. I am perpetually tired. In other words, I am either too fatigued to access a venue or overstimulated which makes me hide from noise. An hour-long social event takes me two weeks to mentally prepare for, and two weeks to recover from. It is like a bad hangover. I can either partake in these or have a full-time job. I cannot physically or mentally do both. Thus most events are completely inaccessible for me as an audience member, supporter and performer.

Performing comedy without a live-audience is hard. I won’t underplay that. When we perform live, we get instant feedback. We modify our script according to audience participation. With Funny Women, we have the added benefit to meet a lovely supportive community. With the coronavirus induced shutdown, we are isolated from this support group. For new comedians, like me, it is doubly hard. We do not have a pre-existing relationship we can lean on.

Everyone is forced to perform indoors, online. These performances feel like a long monologue. The uncertainty makes me anxious.

Do I have my ‘audience’s’ attention?

Are they laughing, or at least smiling?

It is forcing us to work on a new skillset suitable to the platform. But this hardship has also opened doors for people who find it hard to attend offline events. They can stream endless amazing performances from home. This made me wonder:

How can we make sure we are accessible by design?

What is accessible?

In her article, Why Deny the Disabled Population Digital Access?, gender and disability justice advocate, Srinidhi Raghavan describes accessibility as:

“Accessibility is an important part of the digital experience. Accessibility which is built into the design and not just a tick box. Accessibility that is warm and brings us closer. It is not just the action of “helping” someone but the actions of building a world where everyone is welcome, where everyone’s needs are discussed – even if not understood fully.”

When we look at it this way, it forces us to completely change our point of view – a paradigm shift. Disability is a spectrum. Different people with the same/similar disability may have different needs. Honestly, it takes very little effort to make sure our events are inclusive.  The disability community has created documentation to guide us. All we have to do is regularly consult with them, and incorporate their suggestions. We can begin by asking:

  • Is this venue wheelchair accessible?
  • Have I booked a sign language interpreter?
  • Do my videos online have captions?
  • Is our payment gateway readable in screen readers?

Comedy is Resilience. Comedy is Political. Comedy is Anarchy. We know how to rise up from ashes. But when this is over, I’d like us to ask:

  • Do we want comedy to be an exclusive ableist club?

If not then:

  • How can we be better comedians?
  • How can we be a better community?

Accessibility is a process. Since the disability community is also learning how to articulate their needs, the meaning of accessibility is ever-evolving. We may fail once in a while. We may get called out for that. We should be kind to ourselves, and be open to constantly learn and unlearn.

This article was first published with Funny Women.


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