Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Looking Beyond Physical Accessibility

Ryan McGraw

by Ryan McGraw

Students of all different abilities, ages, and sizes will walk through the door of a yoga studio/class. As a teacher or studio owner, you can get overwhelmed with the thought, “How will I accommodate everyone?” You can prepare yourself by ensuring the space is physically accessible and that you know something about accessible yoga, but the key to making things accessible is getting to know the individual yoga student.

Since the accessibility needs of each person will be unique, there is no rigid accessibility guide a yoga teacher or studio must follow. Even if two students have the same disability, it probably will present differently in each person. So although you may have knowledge of a specific condition it is essential that you (the teacher and/or studio) keep an open mind and not have any preconceived judgements about anyone that walks through the door to take a yoga class.

The principle of “universal design” needs to be taken into account from the point a person leaves their house to the time they return home after class. If a barrier exists at any point in the process, a student may not be able to attend class. Universal design is the design and composition of an environment so that it can be accessed, understood, and used to the greatest extent possible by all people regardless of their age, size, ability, or disability.

Therefore, when scheduling classes you must consider multiple facets of the students’ lives. Is your studio accessible by public transportation and paratransit (a public transit service for people who are unable to use regular buses or trains)? Can a student with a mobility limitation move around the yoga studio easily? Is the bathroom easily accessible? Can a person on a limited income afford class? Is the lighting in the studio accommodating to someone with light sensitivity issues? These are just some aspects a yoga studio needs to consider when making a universally designed yoga experience.

When a new student with a disability walks into your studio/class, treat them with the same respect and dignity as you would treat any other student. Do not assume that they have no yoga experience and that you will have to make all kinds of accommodations for them. Instead, just talk to them! They have likely lived in a disabled body for many years, making them the world’s leading expert on their body. Asking the student questions may be important to ensure the student’s safety in class, but you should not simply assume a person needs or wants assistance just because they may appear different from the other students in the class.

When yoga instructors teach poses, they usually teach the classic pose as they learned it. However, in Accessible Yoga we look at what the function of the pose is and what the person’s abilities are and create a pose from there. Thus, the student and teacher are working together in collaboration to create a pose that is safe and effective for the individual at this moment in time. In this situation, the student’s body is teaching the instructor as much as the instructor is teaching the student. Keeping an open mind in this process is essential.

Ryan McGraw
approaches every class with the belief that everyone can do yoga. As a person with cerebral palsy who has been practicing yoga for 15 years, Ryan is well aware that yoga poses can be adapted to meet the needs of the student, no matter what their ability level is. Ryan earned his 200-hour yoga teaching certificate in 2011 and has completed two adaptive yoga teacher training with Matthew Sanford. Ryan received his Master’s Degree in Disability and Human Development from the University of Illinois at Chicago, in 2013. For his Master’s Thesis, Ryan created an adapted yoga manual for people with disabilities. He has written about his yoga experience in Yoga and Body Image, a collection of essays from people who are not the average yoga practitioner and recently published an article in Yoga International why it is essential to teach accessible yoga in 200 hour teacher training courses. As a member of the disability community who has worked in the disability advocacy field for 12 years, Ryan advocates for the full inclusion of people with disabilities in all aspects of society.

This post was edited by Patrice Priya Wagner, Managing Editor of Accessible Yoga blog and member of the Board of Directors.

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