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allergies, disability justice, and accessbility

[text reads: allergies, disability justice, and accessbility by b. binaohan]

Suggestions for how to accommodate for allergies

So how can orgs/groups/individuals wanting to factor in allergies start to make spaces accessible?

This is a rather difficult prospect given the huge variety of allergies and disparate ranges of severity. I think a good place to start is to focus on the [most common causes of anaphylaxis][3]:

  • medications
  • foods like peanuts, tree nuts, fish, wheat, shellfish, milk, eggs
  • insect stings from bees, yellow jackets, wasps, hornets, and fire ants

Now, medication is unlikely to be a worry for many organizers, so I’d not worry too much about this. However, it might be useful (in case of a medical emergency) to know if any participants have deadly allergies to medications.

Insect stings are also unlikely to require much attention. Except if any of the activities are planned to be outside during the time of the year when these insects are active. This also means, that if nothing is planned in advance, that unplanned location changes do not happen.

For me, it has happened in more than a few occassions that at a conference or whatever if the day is nice and sunny, some sessions will move outside to take advantage of the weather. While I do understand this, it makes it instantly inaccessible to me. If I’ve planned on being indoors all day, I might not have sunscreen, sufficient clothing, or whatever to prevent me getting a rash from sun exposure.

Likewise, I imagine a person at risk for anaphylaxis from insect stings would prefer to know in advance if there are going to be outdoor activities. And that for activities advertised as being indoors, that they don’t move outdoors – regardless of how nice the day might be.

As far as food is concerned, some of these are worse than others? I mentioned that some people have gone into anaphylactic shock after smelling peanuts. Overall, do some research and ban anything that is on this level. All food, all of it, should have a complete list of ingredients. And, if anything is going to have a specific allergen in it, take extra care to prevent cross-contamination. This isn’t only about preparation but serving (ie, do not serve a dish with peanuts even on the same table as anything else, since it is easy to switch serving utensils and cross-contaminate that way).

The food thing is already somewhat addressed by the fairly common practise of asking attendees for dietary requirements. But it might be useful for organizers to know if there is a possibility of anaphylaxis and to make appropriate plans (ie, have a contact person for that attendee when they arrive who will be present during meals or most of the day, who will be told where the epipen is and what to do in case of anaphylactic shock).

All dietary needs are important. But doing the above will help ensure that, um, no one dies from careless food handling or oversight. Especially since anaphylaxis can be very quick, having staff/organizers know who is at risk and what to do could literally save lives.

(But as always… medical information shouldn’t be mandatory nor shared beyond the people who need to know, at least not without the person’s consent).

Scent is already a fairly common thing addressed, but it might be good for other environmental factors to be included in this. Things like warning people if your venue might have a lot of dust. Or mold. Asking participants to wearing something freshly washed and with as little animal hair as possible. As people to notify you if they have service animals so that some kind of compromise can be worked out with ppl who’re allergic.

Perhaps when ppl are registering or giving RSVPs, indicate that if they have any severe allergies that they should mention them so that some sort of action to mitigate reactions can be done.

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