Increasing Accessibility Part 1: Virtual Meetups

This is a post for the August 2020 Carnival of Aces. It is cross-posted to Prismatic Entanglements.

What am I hoping to get out of the ace community?

In a word, accessibility. I mean that in a broad sense: accessibility in terms of consideration for physical disabilities, accessibility of information, and accessibility in terms of creating an environment that doesn’t feel hostile, where I feel safe and welcome to share the truth of my experience.

You may have noticed that lately I’ve been mostly inactive. I haven’t published any public posts related to asexuality since last July, when I participated in the Carnival of Aces on “Home.” It’s not strictly true that I haven’t posted anything about asexuality since then, because I’ve been active in more private spaces, but I’ve mostly been commenting. 

 

My Disability

The main reason for that is because I’ve been struggling with disability. I’ve developed a case of pretty severe tendinitis in my wrists. This started around a decade ago largely because of my job at the time, and I attempted to get medical treatment back then, but it was… uh, lacking, to say the least. I got a brace fitted to my dominant hand, tried physical therapy but had to quit after only a few sessions for lack of insurance, and then I was on my own. I received basically no guidance about ergonomics and how to care for myself to reduce symptoms and prevent them from worsening.

So of course it’s gradually gone downhill, worsening as I’ve had to deal with deadlines for school and work, and eventually got to the point where it would get so inflamed I could barely move it sometimes. I only finally managed to get more help for it last year, when I got a decent physical therapist who did give me some actual guidance about how to take care of myself properly so that I could heal. 

However, I’ve had a lot of trouble sticking with my treatment plan, because of my neurodivergence. Both PTSD and ADHD (the latter still undiagnosed, but I’m 90+% sure I have it) have really gotten in the way of sticking to the rather strict schedule of stretches, icing, heating, and strength training I’m supposed to be doing. I had to stop going to physical therapy midway through, again because my insurance ran out, but at least I got more than a few sessions in this time. Without going into too much detail, this has resulted in me going through a frustrating cycle of healing and then re-injuring myself again before I can really get back into the swing of things.

And then the pandemic happened, and the stress of dealing with that has made everything even harder. Enough said about that.

 

Inaccessibility of Virtual Meetups

Since the pandemic began, many asexual meetup groups have moved online—I’ve identified more than twenty active groups holding virtual meetings thus far—and some new groups have even started virtually

Most of these groups are incorporating video chats in some way. You’d think this would be great for me, as someone who needs to take pressure off my hands, has had no local ace groups to turn to, and whose attempts to start a group in the past have ultimately gone nowhere. I’ve long wished that more groups would also offer online meetings, as that would be a great benefit to areas as widely spread out as the one I live in. I thought this quarantine period might encourage aces in my area to mobilize and create a group that hopefully brings more of us together and lasts longer than our previous attempts have.

Unfortunately, it hasn’t played out that way. There are still no meetup groups anywhere near my area (the two nearest I can find are both 600+ miles away), and trying to start one myself is beyond my abilities. I’m spread too thin as it is.

What about broader groups? There are the TAAAP Pride Chats, which looked intriguing, especially the one on the topic of accessibility last month. That’s a topic that I’ve had a long-term interest in and have been struggling with especially hard lately, so I kind of wanted to participate in that one.

The problem is, it was ironically held in a format that’s inaccessible to me.

Discord groups are a dealbreaker for me, for several reasons:

  1. I find them incredibly chaotic and confusing. The sheer amount of notifications are overwhelming, even when I make the effort to turn every channel I’m not interested in off, which can itself be a lot of repetitive clicking and thus quite painful for me. Even when all notifications are off and I’m just reading chat, whenever there’s multiple people participating it tends to scroll by pretty fast and I can’t keep up.
  2. Real-time chats are a bad idea for me, because as I discussed above, I need to avoid typing for a long time as much as possible. I need lots of time for breaks to stretch and collect my thoughts, and the pressure of a format where people expect a quick reply can end up encouraging me to push past my body’s limits and end up hurting myself. (If you’re about to tell me that I can “just lurk” then, please don’t. I’m aware that is an option, but ADHD makes it so that this can be very difficult for me, so it’s better not to put myself in that position in the first place.)
  3. Video and audio calls both aren’t easy for me either. First of all, I don’t even have a working microphone or webcam on my primary PC anymore, so I would have to use my work laptop to participate (which I absolutely don’t want to install Discord on, because it would interfere with my ability to… y’know… work). I could just listen, sure, but I’ve found that in practice, that’s a tall order because of my attention and audio processing issues. I end up feeling so scattered and overwhelmed afterwards that I have difficulty doing anything else for the rest of the day.
  4. Simple social anxiety. Even in the quietest, calmest Discord servers, this typically keeps me from participating much, if at all. I’ll discuss this one more in part two.
  5. There’s a privacy issue as well, because I have already had an account on Discord for years, which I use in ways connected to my real name, and I don’t want to cross streams. Because I don’t like groups, I mostly ignore them and only use DMs instead, but I’m still in several different servers. I could make a new account to use for this purpose, sure, but frankly I’m just tired of managing so many different accounts, so I don’t want to. And it doesn’t seem like the best use of my time given all my other issues with Discord.

So I didn’t participate in the accessibility Pride Chat, and I probably won’t try to participate in anything else on Discord either. 

But there are other formats! I haven’t actually tried any yet (I’ll discuss more about why not in part 2), but maybe they’d be better for me. Zoom is the other one that is seeing widespread usage right now, but I haven’t had any reason to use it yet myself. I have seen some articles discussing privacy concerns about it, though, so I’m a bit wary. I’m interested in hearing what others think about that.

While researching for this post, I found out that Asexuals of the Mid-Atlantic are using Jitsi as a more privacy-focused alternative to Zoom, and also icebreaker.video. I also heard that a while ago David Jay was trying out Online Town. I’m curious to learn more about these platforms, but a detailed comparison is outside of my scope right now, so I leave that to commenters.

 

Building Informational Resources

My biggest problem with the state of virtual meetups in asexual communities right now, though, is just the sheer amount of effort it takes to even find out about them. Most groups are set to private, so you have to already be a member to know what they’re up to. I could find no resource compiling information about which groups are still active virtually and open to new members, especially those open to virtual visits from people outside of the area where they are focused. While writing this post, I got sidetracked for days trying to find out what platforms these groups were using, and it took reaching out to a lot of my contacts to get more information. It’s a lot of message-writing!

And I’ve still only scratched the surface. There are many groups I’m unable to find information about because I don’t have a Facebook account, I’m not active on AVEN, and I’m unwilling to message group organizers on Meetup.com myself because I don’t want to reveal my legal name.

What about people who are totally new to the ace community and just trying to get involved for the first time? How are they supposed to find information without having access to the extensive network of contacts I’ve built up over the 15 years I’ve been active in asexual communities?

I’ll be honest: up until I decided to write about this, I really haven’t been trying all that hard to find accessible virtual meetups, because I just haven’t been willing to expend that much effort on something that will probably be of only marginal benefit to me anyway. I still may decide I’m not even going to try to participate in any groups even after compiling all this information, just because I still have to be very careful about managing my condition.

But at the very least, I can share this with others so that it will be easier for them to overcome this barrier. The Asexual Agenda is a major hub for the ace community which exists on a platform that facilitates google searches, so we should host something here to connect people with other ace communities. We say that “one of our most important functions is to aggregate links,” so let’s put that into practice.

I’m still working out the details on this, so it could be a little while before it’s ready to be published, and I’ll definitely need help. If you’re interested in helping out, do let me know.

In the meantime, I’m still working on finishing Part 2 of this post, which will focus more on how mental health, neurodivergence, and trauma can impact my ability to engage with the ace community. I also plan to discuss ways that we can improve. Stay tuned! 

About Elizabeth

Elizabeth is a 30-something asexual woman who is often mistaken for a lesbian, due to the fact that she is partnered to a lady. She is actually bi (but not biromantic) and somewhere on the aromantic spectrum. She is formally trained in creative writing with a focus on non-fiction and poetry, and maintains a blog called Prismatic Entanglements, where she mostly writes long-winded personal essays and social criticism. In her spare time, she enjoys being cat furniture, coming up with new Pokemon strategies and never going to church.
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