Innovative Solutions for Accessibility
By Kara Schweiss
Photo by Ron Coleman, C4 Photography
Shelby Seier, founder of All Kinds Accessibility Consulting, says that when people think about accessibility, they associate it with ramps, elevators and sign language interpretation, but it’s actually about so much more.
“It’s about forming deep relationships, it’s about radically anticipating needs, it’s about accepting that navigating the world is often challenging,” she explains. “Accommodations can include assessing how light enters a building, how information is presented, how we navigate shared air, how we address conflict, the height at which we hang artwork, the fonts we choose for websites, snow removal policies—and the list goes on.”
Seier says her role as an accessibility consultant is to make accommodations a fun, invigorating and sometimes healing process.
“Access is culture and access is an art form. The disability identity is beautiful. I want to make accessibility so alluring and so widely beneficial that once people begin integrating it into their various practices, they can’t imagine doing things inaccessibly ever again. Everyone has access needs, everyone benefits from accessibility, and everyone benefits from dismantling ableism. Centering disabled people is necessary for the advancement of any endeavor. All this makes access and care work vital and exciting.”
Seier’s All Kinds projects often reflect her special interest in arts, entertainment and grassroots organizations. The Omaha native has deep roots in community theater, performing as a child and majoring in theater at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas.
She also has personal experience with disability.
“My main disability is POTS (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome). It makes standing very hard,” she says. “All Kinds came about to create clear solutions to the common and unnecessary experience of being unable to access community. I was very sick with chronic illnesses when I moved back to Omaha as an adult and I really wanted to connect to the community, but events did not offer information on accommodations. It was a huge deal for me to leave my house or my bed and doing so took tremendous effort and coordination. I needed to know whether the space I was trying to get to would have chairs, a place for me to be dropped off, whether or not I could eat snacks, and whether there was a quiet space I could escape to, should a flare-up start while I was there. This information didn’t exist, and it felt isolating.”
Seier describes her company as “a creative consultancy that aims to reduce barriers, create inventive accommodations and get the community to begin or continue to think about how we show up for non-normative body minds.” She adds that All Kinds extends beyond the legal stipulations of accommodations and seeks innovative solutions to reducing barriers and providing access.
“I’m a very detail-oriented person and I love creative problem solving,” she says. “I realized that I could formalize accessibility practices to reduce some of the isolation I experienced, and that was the dawn of All Kinds.”
The company has served clients all over the country and recently added its first international client. Its consultations vary widely, ranging from social media accessibility assessments and environmental audits to lesson plans for teachers and affordable, accessible housing. “If you haven’t thought about disabled people in relation to your endeavors, that probably means that you’re unintentionally excluding people,” Seier says.
She says “All Kinds” literally means all people, places and things. “I have yet to find something that accessibility isn’t applicable to. The best collaborations are with people and organizations that are unsatisfied with the status quo and are willing to get their hands dirty, unlearn and address ableism, and radically alter their practices to benefit the community.
I offer services on a sliding scale because I want to be able to say yes to groups and organizations that are eager to do right on scrappy budgets.”
The standard estimate that disabled people make up one-fourth of the world’s population may be low, according to Seier.
“Disability is a wonderfully common, normal part of life and it’s one of the few identities anyone can enter at any time. It’s also one of the few identities that intersects with every other identity. This is all to say that enacting access for disabled people opens tons of doors—literally and figuratively,” she says. “If you’d like to enact inclusive practices and you’re not sure where to start, beginning with accessibility makes a lot of sense because it shifts the way we approach all work and all interactions. Plus, doing accessibility and care work gets us out of passive forms of impact work and moves us towards real, tangible changes that make a big difference. What’s more, we are currently experiencing the largest growth in the disability community since polio as we actively accommodate people newly disabled by COVID-19.”
The best strategy to incorporate access is following the leadership of disabled people, Seier emphasizes, because “nothing can replace the lived experience of disability.”
“Disabled people are life-hackers and problem-solvers because we need those skills to survive. There’s a wealth of knowledge within the disability community and it’s up to the wider community to follow our lead,” she says. Seier says she’s not a fan of euphemism in conversations about disability and access, and she also advocates for using language to address ableism, which is discrimination or prejudice against people with disabilities.
“Language impacts everyone’s relationship to disability. If a person uses ‘insane’ as a negative pejorative, what does that say about insane people? If a person uses a euphemism for disability instead of simply saying the word ‘disabled,’ are they able to honor us as equals, or is there some internalized infantilism at play?” she says.
“Language is not the end-all-be-all when it comes to addressing ableism, but I do believe that addressing language can be a beneficial personal practice towards dismantling internalized ableism. Many people find that ableism is so pervasive in our culture and common language demonizes the experience of disability.”
Seier says she’d like to see a future where disability is regarded as commonplace and not something to be pitied or feared, where every entity has an accessibility coordinator, and where disabled people are compensated for their time and expertise.
“Access needs have an enormous range. People with dynamic disabilities have access needs that can change by the minute. Everyone has access needs, regardless of disability identity. In some situations, not meeting a person’s access needs can be life-threatening. Another way of thinking about access needs is viewing them as preferences, or commonplace or routine adaptations you already negotiate. ‘Access work’ is the opportunity to meet access needs with kindness and flexibility,” she says.
“My ultimate goal is for everyone to view disability as a neutral life experience and one that we should all expect to experience at some point. If we honor that any of us could become disabled at any time and that it could actually be a normal, even joyful, process, I think we would all collectively invest in accommodations a lot more.”