Live United: How do we bring the least restrictive access to nonprofits?

Published 8:45 pm Friday, July 15, 2022

Live United by Erin Haag

There’s something you should know about me. I’m the type of mom that has six instant ice packs at every softball game, and I bring little scissors to the Third of July Parade because inevitably someone hands out freezie pops that are hard to tear open. By no means does this mean I actually have my life together, but I do tend to be that mom. Cue my family’s recent trip to Oregon to celebrate my nephew’s graduation. We hadn’t been on a plane since 2018. I researched the rules, bought new luggage because I wasn’t convinced my measuring skills were up to par, mapped out the route and made all the lists.

Erin Haag

I’d like to say that our travel went exactly as planned. We did just fine until we hit security. My husband and I split up — one kid with me, one kid with him. What I didn’t anticipate was my complete inability to hear instructions — because TSA agents were calling them out to me from quite a distance away, or not looking at me. If TSA agents think you’re not following instructions, it’s not such a great experience. Suddenly, I was overwhelmed, anxious, not sure of what I needed to do, and was met with TSA agents that weren’t understanding of a disability they weren’t aware of and couldn’t see. We made it through, but I was nearly in tears. We counted kids, we counted bags, we took a deep breath and I tried to shake it off, telling myself the hard part was over.  We landed safely, on time and then we realized — we left a bag at TSA security. How’d we miss that? We counted! Gah. Life goes on though, and we had wonderful family moments during our time together. We learned our lessons, and I stuck close to my husband through security on the way home, and it was smooth sailing. 

A couple of weeks later, I had another appointment in the Cities. We hadn’t been able to check the lost and found on the way home due to how late the flight got in. So I decided to stop by and check and see if our bag had made it to the lost and found. That first experience with security made me nervous though. I was by myself. I did my research. I called ahead of time and verified where to go and the hours. I looked at the map. I had pictures of the bag and descriptions of what was in it. That experience though — I had a hard time letting it go. 

As I waited for my appointment, I realized that I didn’t know where to park at the airport. We had used Park N’ Fly, and I had never driven to the airport before. Thankful for Wi-fi in waiting rooms, I pulled up the map and quickly realized that I still didn’t know where to park. I turned to a group on social media with parents living in Minnesota. I figured one of them had some experience. Lo and behold, a parent gave me specific instructions. He told me what floor to park on, how to get to the elevator from there, walked me through step by step of exactly where to go. It was amazing. 

I was reminded of a story that I’ve often seen circulated around. A person asked on the internet how to order a sandwich at Subway. They shared they had anxiety and needed to prepare. Someone responded with matter of fact kindness, giving detailed step by step about what the questions were, what the options were. The story was shared over and over as a prime example of how to support those with barriers, because we never know someone’s story. The airport parking was my Subway story. Because a stranger took the time to give me very detailed instructions, I didn’t have to stop and ask questions in a noisy place where I can’t hear. I went back and told him thank you — that I had successfully followed his instructions, and best of all, they had my bag. Because of him, I was in and out of MSP in less than 20 minutes. He told me he was glad, and shared that he worked for MSP Lost and Found. 

The world can be a busy, noisy, confusing place. Non profit leaders are charged with cutting through the noise, helping our most vulnerable populations navigate a world that seems overwhelming. In our hunger relief work, it’s about what we call “least restrictive access.” In our faith communities it’s about creating a welcoming, friendly space. In our libraries, it’s about making sure there are books in languages other than English, books in large print and books in braille. It’s about taking what seems overly simple, or normal to some, and making sure it’s accessible with the least amount of struggle. Having the knowledge of what to expect, how to access services and even just the friendly smile can make all the difference. One of our biggest challenges is that community members in need wait until they’re in crisis until they ask for help. Often, it’s because a previous experience has left them apprehensive. For our organization, we want to walk people through step by step. We want to help our nonprofit partners create welcoming environments where clients can know what to expect, what they need to bring and to feel like they’re heard. We want our corporate partners to have this same approach so that employees feel like they have access to resources in a non-intrusive manner. Having information available, accessible and detailed can make a world of difference for many. This is inclusion at its finest.

If you’re wondering how to bring this to your own organization, give us a call. Sometimes fresh eyes can highlight areas that may be a barrier to clients, employees in need of resources or more. Want to learn more about how you can bring resource information to your employees? United Way of Freeborn County can provide handouts on a variety of resources to share with your employees, neighbors, service club and more. This is a great first step in bringing information to those that need it. Call our office at 507-373-8670. 

 Erin Haag is the executive director of the United Way of Freeborn County.