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UNITED KINGDOM – The Pagan Federation has expanded its resources, initiating a new service for Pagans living in England and Wales. The Pagan Federation Disabilities Team is the vision of Anna Lawson, who recognized that disabled people in the Pagan community needed to be given a voice and a vehicle to ensure greater access to events and practice. In November 2015, she reached out to Mike Stygal, who was president of the Pagan Federation at the time, for assistance. From this meeting, the Pagan Federation Disabilities Team was born.
As the team’s inaugural manager. Lawson’s first move was to create a Facebook group to recruit new membership for the team and also to see what types of services the public would want from them. After one month, Deputy Manager Debi Gregory was aboard to help.
But the line up changed quickly as Lawson was forced to leave her new position due to ill health. By February of this year, Gregory had moved into the manager position, and the team quickly enlarged to include Team Secretary Jean James and two new Deputy Managers, Beth Murray and Petra Lucas. In less than a year, the Pagan Federation, which divides England and Wales into 12 districts, had local representation for eight of those districts on the team, proving that this is was resource for which the Pagan community was ready.
Team manager Gregory is a mother and writer, living in Yorkshire, UK. She is very open about her own disabilities and the challenges she has faced in her own life, and encourages other team members to do the same. It is her belief that by being as candid and transparent as possible, the team will be approachable to community members who need its help.
“I tell my team all the time – without trust, we have nothing” said Gregory in a phone interview with The Wild Hunt. “All of the team are disabled in some way…we have all faced discrimination, we have all faced some issue within the pagan community when it comes to our disabilities and practicing our faith, and we shouldn’t have to. We are trying to fix it.”
Gregory and the team have established some clear priorities to focus on. These include: 1. Raising awareness and letting people know that disabled Pagans are trying to access the Pagan community and are finding barriers to joining in on events and groups, 2. Speaking to people who are actively discriminating against disabled Pagans and educating them in a professional manner about how to coexist with people with mental or physical disabilities 3. Working with event organizers to find spaces where physically disabled Pagans can participate and have access to ramps, public toilets and amenities.
This is no small task, as Gregory points out, because venues are scarce, many of the pubs where the popular moots are held are village or town pubs, built before current codes for accessibility were enacted. While atmospheric, these old buildings have narrow doors, cramped washroom facilities, and often have stairs throughout the space, making it difficult, if not impossible, for physically disabled people to enter.
Organizers may not want to abandon a favourite pub, or even have the option of an alternate venue, but Gregory suggests that relocating to an accessible establishment, even a couple times per year, would be a gesture of inclusiveness that would be appreciated by Pagans often left out of such important community building events. The team is also working on educational workshops to help people understand the needs of pagans with invisible disabilities.The Disability Team has also taken their organizing of events online, offering online seasonal festivals, where participants only need to be able to get to an internet connection to take in the festivities. The first one was held over eight days in May as part of the Beltane celebrations. Gregory had the brainstorm to hold the event, and with the help of Pagan Dawn magazine’s editor, Kate Large, presenters were lined up to provide the streaming content.
The event was successful with 1,000 active participants and the videos reaching 20,000 people to date. The subsequent online festivals for Summer Solstice and Autumn Equinox have been shorter in duration, but have received similar attention. The video content is stored on the event Facebook pages as well as the Pagan Federation Disabilities Team YouTube channel.
The next online festival will be in honour of Inter Faith Week in November. Following that will be the Online Yule Festival; the theme for this one will be Self Care. Presenters are being encouraged to speak from a comfortable place and to wear their pajamas, or whatever they tend to sleep in. This is meant to show solidarity with those who, because of a disability, are unable to leave their beds. The team provides updates on these events on its Disabilities Group Facebook page.
In addition to the new team’s creation, its onine events, and its work to raise awareness, the Pagan Federation has also launched the Disabled Pagan Voices Project as another platform for for participation. It was conceived by Kate Large, and quickly supported by the Disability Team. Submissions of art, blogs, short stories, poetry, music or anything that expresses the creativity of disabled Pagans or their caregivers is accepted and shared through the online festivals and the Disability Team blog. There are also plans in the works to include this material in the new, soon to be launched Pagan Federation UK website.As far as Gregory knows, her team is unique in the world. There has been interest for similar teams to be established in other Pagan Federation territories, but for now, only England and Wales are covered. Disabled people from other countries have even been in touch with requests. Most recently a woman from Canada reached out for aid after encountering a problem when she took her service dog to a local moot. While the team may not be able to advocate on behalf of anyone outside of their territory, they are able to provide advice and share their resources.
In less than one year, the Pagan Federation Disability Team has broken new ground and instigated a new online gathering place for Pagans of all abilities to participate on their own terms.
As Gregory says: “We are trying to bring people together to let them know that they do have a voice, they are appreciated, and that the community does want to include them and they don’t have to feel alone anymore”