There is no lack of things to do at the 12th Sakyadhita International Women in Buddhism Conference! When I was not running around hanging directional signs in preparation for the afternoon workshops, I attended today’s panel on New Directions for Buddhist Social Transformation. All of the papers in the panel were interesting, but the one that struck me the most was Diana Cousens’ paper regarding temple accessibility to the disabled.
This is not just an issue within Buddhist temples. Once I thought to ponder it, I realized that many sites I have visited in the past–whether it be a temple on the ghats of Varanasi, India, or a wat in the middle of Bangkok–are utterly inaccessible to people who might be in wheelchairs, use crutches, or just unable to climb many steps. Diana recalled witnessing a palanquin being offered to the elderly and disabled at the Ajanta caves in India, and noted that it wasn’t until a few years after that that she realized the problem of accessibility in religious sites.
I think Diana’s work in pioneering legislation requiring religious sites to list their accessibility levels and availability is of utmost importance. Buildings constructed long before codes regarding accessibility were put in place should be available for people of all ages and ability to explore and witness. Temples, churches, shrines…all of these should be able to open themselves up to those who might need them most; they should not exclude.
Diana’s paper raised an issue I had never considered, and I am glad she presented it to the conference; we must remember that even while we strive to open up the world to women, we must also strive to open up the world to all those who are not given equal status. Everyone must feel enabled, and as long as one group is held back we must continue this mission.