Four Ways to Include Indigenous People in your Accessibility Committee


Four disabled people of color with canes and prosthetic legs laugh while chatting. They are on a rooftop deck, in chairs of various height, with greenery and city high-rises in the background.
Photo by Chona Kasinger, part of the Disabled And Here project.

Under the Accessible BC Act, “prescribed” organizations need to establish accessibility committees including at least one Indigenous member. When you reflect on welcoming Indigenous people to your committee, there are some things to keep in mind.

Be clear

Outline what you need committee members to contribute and also what you can offer. Make sure to share if there is transportation, compensation, meals or childcare available. Be clear about how payments are made and when. Let them know if the space is ventilated for smudging or where they can smudge if they need to (or perform any other ceremonies as required for their own wellness). 

Don’t assume

Not all Indigenous people perform cultural or spiritual work, like opening prayers or ceremonies and it should not be assumed they are based on their ancestry alone. If those are services your organization requires, ask if they provide those services or if they can recommend someone who does. This is an assumption that is often made and it can be very uncomfortable for the guest to be put in that position.

Be flexible

National Indigenous Peoples’ Day or National Day for Truth and Reconciliation are often very busy times for Indigenous people, so it would be best not to schedule meetings on those days. If you want your committee member to speak to the significance of those occasions, make sure to let them know in advance. It can be really stressful and even traumatic to be asked to synthesize one’s thoughts about genocide and colonization on the fly. Consider that your Indigenous committee members may have spiritual or cultural events that are seasonal that may impact their availability and be open to working around scheduling as needed.

Be open

Indigenous people often face barriers in access to culturally safe healthcare due to systemic racism, unconscious bias and care providers who are not trained in cultural safety. They may also face additional challenges around wellness relating to social determinants of health that compound health issues. Be open to hearing about different experiences and trust people to narrate their own experiences and even perspectives on disability, wellness and healing. 

Indigenous people bring a lot to the table and are more than the challenges they face. By being clear, flexible and open and welcoming people without assumptions, there are more opportunities to learn and work together towards true accessibility.

Alison Tedford Seaweed is a communications and Indigenous relations consultant and a member of the Kwakiutl First Nation. She has lived experience of disability and worked in the public sector for over a decade.