Let’s go out. Meet me at the busy intersection with the only public transport elevator out of order and no parking spots, at the cobble-stoned entryway, and the step at the door. Make it through the two-hour queue and past security that cannot tell intoxication from neurodiversity. Follow me down into the narrow stair-cased dark basement club. Get pushed and touched and pulled by the dancing crowd. Search for the out-of-order or nonexistent accessible bathrooms, shout at the bartender who cannot hear you over the noise, and lean over the counter. If you can. Now look around. Who are you partying with? And who did not even make it to the door?
Access cannot be a luxury. Access is essential, not optional. The ableist structures of nightlight exclude whole communities and access is something that is still not talked about enough. Most venues remain inaccessible for people with disabilities and people on the neurodiverse spectrum and there are too few conversations about this. X-S aims to change that. Focussing on visibility and access X-S – Save the Night is organized by Stella Spoon from Queer Trans Liberation Network (QTL) and queer event producer and DJ Nikki Germeys. “In terms of accommodating disabilities – visible, invisible, physical, and psychological – I still think we can do better as an industry,” says Nikki. With initiatives like Inklusion muss Laut Sein, the team put together an event that breaks down barriers, starts conversations, and shows that it is in fact possible, and not even that hard, to make a venue and event more accessible. Ahead of the party and panel talk on May 6th at Berlin’s Marie Antionette and Fitzroy, we spoke to Stella Spoon about the process of planning the event.
“Intersections with gender, race, and sexuality affect people with disabilities disproportionately”.
“Diversity is also about disability”, Stella says on our Zoom call in late April. Having been diagnosed with ADHD herself, Stella wants to make nightlife accessible for people with disabilities and the neurodiverse community. People with disabilities are disproportionately affected by intersections of discrimination. When represented in media, it is usually white people we see, and disability usually equals someone who uses a wheelchair. In reality, disability is a broad range and people have vastly different individual needs. Disability can also affect anyone at any time. Yet, discussions about accessibility often remain limited and rarely include people with disabilities. Moving within an ableist capitalist society, disability has successfully been pushed to the margins. Curating the lineup, Stella Spoon made sure to highlight people with disabilities and those who are intersectionally affected by discrimination. The event features performers like Rude Vianna and Dornika, DJ Laura De Vasconcelos, poet Day Eve Komet, and panelists Exildiscount, Sabina Ahmed, and many others.
Confronting Ableist Structures
To reach as many people as possible, the team put out an open call for performers and activists. Through this, they got more collaborators on board and worked closely with people who are part of the disabled and neurodiverse community. “One of our consultants is Sabina Ahmed. She uses a wheelchair and brings lived experience and expertise. She is going to train the awareness team and on the awareness team, we also have people with disabilities. But training is still essential. We want the space to be as safe as possible for people at intersections of discrimination. Disability and queerness do not absolve racism and so on.”
When it came to the location, there were several things that they took care of to make X-S more accessible. Stella mentions examples like the high bar counters and a stage without a ramp, that they had to work around. They installed emergency buttons in the bathrooms and are designing a sensory room. The event will also be free of charge to lower the barrier of financial and class-based discrimination. But some things are out of their hand. Like the location of the venue, the neighborhood it is in, and the accessibility of public transport. “Making the event as accessible as possible for the night is still DIY. Of course, we are not able to rebuild the whole place,” Stella comments.
Talking about the process, Stella Spoon says that she learned a lot of things. “We also have to confront our internalized ableism. Nobody is perfect, and it requires constant learning and unlearning. But the more you work with people who have different experiences, the more you learn. You want to ensure everything is right for the people attending the event. Sometimes over-assuming needs can be patronizing.” Everybody makes mistakes – assuming you don’t will only obstruct the learning process and repeat discriminatory patterns. These are conversations the team behind X-S is constantly having and it is something we should all talk about.
The event consists of a party with a lineup of several DJs and performers and a panel discussion starting at 9 pm. “We are still looking for someone to interpret the conversation to sign language”, Stella says. “There will be a solution for sure. We will record the panel and make it accessible online with subtitles. Of course, having someone interpreting live would be better. In the future, it should be mandatory.”
Stella describes her experience of going to panels and discussions about accessibility in club culture and nightlife as disappointing. “This panel is for the disabled community and not to explain anything to people who are not part of it. We want to give people the opportunity to exchange experiences and talk about their different needs.” There are many small and inexpensive practical solutions that can quickly improve accessibility but ableism still makes it taboo to talk about disability and to voice those needs. “That we do not talk about it enough is a sign that there are too few people with disabilities part of these spaces. We need to be conscious of how we interact with spaces and the people in those spaces.“
“Even though we are trying our best to make the barriers as low as possible, the event will not be 100% accessible. I don’t think that can exist in an ableist society. What we can do is reduce barriers, but we are still just working within the structures.”
X-S aims to be as safe as possible but like with accessibility, it is never 100%. It can only be safer. Through measures like the presence of the trained TS Raver awareness team, a sensory room, and plenty of information about accessibility, the team hopes to reduce traumatic experiences. “We will not have security but do our own. Like this, we hope to be more mindful and have trained people instead of regular club security,” Stella says. Not working with nightlife security companies, which more often than not reproduce violence and discrimination at several intersections and fail to provide safety for people who need it, X-S counts on the trained team and community accountability.
The sensory room will be designed by Adam John Williams. “The idea is to have a space for people, and especially for those who are part of the neurodiverse community, to go to when they feel overwhelmed”, Stella describes. Loud music, hectic lights, and crowds can easily overwhelm, and usually, nightclubs have few places of refuge. The sensory room will provide that through low lights, spaces to lie down, and less noise.
Autonomy and Self-Determination
With the event, Stella Spoon hopes to show that there is work to be done and that reducing barriers or not is a choice. By not changing the structures of venues and events people are actively excluding those who are not able to enter the spaces designed for an ableist society. X-S is just one evening in a music and event culture that needs a lot of change. “If you were giving me the accommodation that I need, I would be able to perform at your space. But you do not. That is what we are pointing out.”
“Disability is a part of life and will happen to everybody at some point”, Stella highlights the urgency of accessibility. “We better make this world accessible now because it will be your turn at some point”. There are a lot of things that venues and event planners can establish in the future. But the first step is to openly talk about accessibility needs and to recognize that there is a problem with the way society is structured. “It is so important to disclose how accessible your venue is to prevent traumatizing experiences for people with disabilities. Like, there should always be the option to skip the line and to bring an accompanying person (Begleitperson) free of charge for a person with a disability.”
These options for providing access are great but often only accessible to people who hold the official German disability ID card or Schwerbehindertenausweis (an official government ID that states that you have a disability and are entitled to use certain accessibility aids). The process of getting it involves bureaucracy, which can be a barrier for people who do not speak German or who do not have the necessary paperwork or medical support. Structures also prevail here and can make it harder for people who are affected by intersectional discrimination to get access to their ID. X-S does require people to identify this way. Instead, they offer open communication and encourage people to get in touch with their consultant Sabina Ahmed regarding any requests they have in terms of accessibility.
“When people reach out and request things in order to be able to access a space, there should not be anybody checking if they are ‘really disabled’. It should be based on trust. It is about autonomy and self-determination. Here, disability and trans identities intersect. Both, thrive for control over their own body but are constantly pathologized in the medical care system. And both need to go through bureaucratical hurdles to attain an ID that allows them to move through the world with fewer barriers and discrimination.”
Disability At Intersections
“We do not want to judge want you might need or not. We want to provide a space where you feel safe enough to write or talk to us about it”. So, if you are in need of certain things in order to access the place you can just write the team an email and they will do their best to accommodate. The event is donation-based to ensure that people who don’t come from financially stable backgrounds can attend. However, donations are welcome to keep the project going and to allow the team to plan future events. Organized by QTL and Stella Spoon, who also organizes educational events for the trans community, X-S is also a push to include conversations about disability and access in queer circles. “It can be so much harder for people with disabilities to experience their queerness and explore themselves. At the intersections of discrimination, they get marginalized by both groups. They are not able to access the space maybe, or ableism from the guests makes it inaccessible.”
“We want to pay attention to disability at all the intersections. The idea is to keep X-S as open as possible. It is not an event for an exclusively disabled audience but an event that shows that when the accommodation needed is provided, there is no reason why we shouldn’t all party together.”
Join the event on the 6th of May at Berlin’s Marie Antionette and Fitzroy. Read more about it right here and check out the full lineup. X-S also published a FAQ regarding their accessibility. You can get in touch with Sabina via qtl.savethenight[at]gmail.com for accessibility requests or questions.