How to do your part in making the world more accessible and weight-inclusive for all.
Are you a health professional, business, or service provider in the health/wellness space, who cares about being weight-inclusive and accessible to all? If so, today’s guest article by the creator of Sacred Spaces for Fat Bodies Angel Austin (below) is for you. 🙂
5 Ways to Make Your Business or Service More Fat-Friendly
Being a truly accessible and inclusive health professional requires more than just stating that you're accessible and inclusive to your clients, or listing that you are on your website.
It requires taking into account the diverse needs of those you may serve, including individuals with larger body sizes, especially superfat and infinifat people. Any person, regardless of their size or ability, should be welcome in your office or practice. Ideally, they should feel welcome and considered from the first moment, when they come to your website, or park for their appointment (if you see clients in person).
As a Black, infinifat, and disabled person, I'd like to share some common issues I face when attempting to obtain care– along with some helpful solutions.
It's important to keep in mind that a health professional, especially if you're providing in-person services, you don't always have control over what happens outside of your physical office. My suggestion is to just apply the information I share in any way you can. You can pass it on to other professionals and related organizations in your network, as well.
Here are 5 common problems (and their solutions) to consider when making your practice more inclusive for fat people, especially individuals who are superfat and infinifat:
Problem #1: Finding You When seeking out a health professional who is welcoming and accommodating to all fat people, it's difficult to determine if a provider can actually even help me. You might say you're weight-inclusive (if there's any clear indicator on your website or platform at all), but what does that mean for me? How can I be sure that you are prepared to welcome me, treat me with compassionate care, and mitigate harm with the services you provide. Very honestly, health professionals use all kinds of terminology today to show that they have at least considered the needs of fat people. If you use any of this terminology, it can be helpful, but it can also be harmful if you're not fully prepared to provide the level of care that's required. Solution: Make It Clear I need to know that a health professional I book with is HAES®️ aligned, not "HAES"-aligned, and not just “weight inclusive.” This is because HAES®️ signals a specific standard of care. If you can legally list the trademark on your site, I'm confident that you are more likely to see me as human, not focus on my weight, treat me with empathy, reduce harm done to me, and give me care that aligns with my needs and values. I fully understand that HAES®️ is not fail-safe, but it's more safe and it's what I'm looking for. Only those who have requested permission with ASDAH and been vetted and approved within the last one to two years should be using HAES®️ (with the trademark symbol), but we know this is not the case. Health professionals who have never heard of ASDAH or learned from a fat person, include "Health at Every Size" in their marketing efforts. I encourage all care providers who are not currently using the HAES®️ trademark, whether they claim any of the terms out there (anti-diet, fat positive, weight neutral, weight-inclusive, etc.), to clearly state what they do (with a focus on action, not just beliefs) to support superfat and infinifat people. Until providers make themselves accountable to the HAES®️ framework of care, this the only true way for us to understand the kind of care we're going to receive.
Problem #2: Marketing and Communications I don't often see pictures of people in fat bodies when I'm searching for care online. What I do see is people who are straight-sized or small fat. When people in larger bodies are featured, they're often shown in stigmatizing ways. Solution: Prioritize Non-Stigmatized Fat Representation I understand the stigma associated with fatness in our society, but if your intention is to be a place where fat people can come to be seen and be safe, you should include fat people of all shapes, sizes, and colors in your marketing and communications. You should use language that is not fatphobic. Your promotion should always be intersectional so that fat people feel represented and seen by you. It also helps to challenge current standards and societal norms, fostering a more inclusive and accepting environment. If you have staff, train them to provide respectful and non-judgmental care to patients of all sizes. Emphasize the importance of using inclusive language, fostering trust, and providing compassionate care. Bias is inevitable, but they (and you) should be doing the work to actively keep their bias in check, and avoiding discrimination at all costs.
Problem #3: Issues with Office Design, Equipment, and Accessibility Visiting your offices is already difficult because getting out of the house is hard, so if I come to your office and struggle to get inside with my wheelchair or other mobility aid, it's a huge issue. If, once I make it inside, I have no place to sit because the chairs aren't wide enough and/or have arms that dig into my hips or thighs, this is most definitely a problem. Seating that is too low or not supportive is an issue, as well. I am often unsure that a seat or exam table has the capacity to hold my body without breaking and causing injury. Solution: Make sure seating or any other necessary equipment can accommodate infinifat people. Provide sturdy, reinforced furniture that can support my weight comfortably. Chairs should be armless or super wide with armrests that can support the weight of superfat or infinifat individuals comfortably. Make this very clear so that we know we can be at ease. Make sure your space is accessible as possible. Install ramps, widen doorways, and keep hallways and other spaces as clear as possible. Some of these aspects are required for ADA standards, but size is not often considered. You should do your due diligence and take these additional steps. Accommodating everyone on the spectrum of fatness only ensures that you'll be able to adequately serve more people.
Problem #4: Bathroom Design I know many health professionals have no control over this, but bathroom accessibility and accommodation is often an issue. Getting into the bathroom can be difficult for me when I use my wheelchair or other mobility aid. Aside from this, toilets are sometimes wall-mounted. I have no idea whether they're built to hold me. I have cracked walls and broken toilets loose from the wall. I shouldn't have to deal with this, nor should I have to use a toilet paper dispenser that's digging into my hip. Solution: When possible, make sure that bathrooms have wide stalls that can comfortably accommodate individuals with fat bodies. Install sturdy grab bars and ensure the space is easily navigable for superfats and infinifats who might use mobility aids. Be sure that the toilet paper dispenser has adequate clearance from the toilet. Bidets are another way to make fat people know you've considered us and are intentional about our care. Again, ADA standards account for some of this, but going steps further for my comfort and that of others with bodies like mine, is ideal.
Problem #5: Things Just Don't Go Well I've had horrible experiences when seeking care. As it is now, healthcare for fat and disabled folks is a harmful reality. Though I work to change it every day, I know that we are a long way from the change we are working to create. I have never had an opportunity to give any feedback to any health professional that I thought would improve the level of care I or other superfat or infinifat might receive in the future. Solution: Provide opportunities for giving feedback and advocate for your clients. Ask us to share our experiences and give suggestions for improvements. Actively listen to our concerns. Take them into genuine consideration, and then actually implement proposed changes when possible.
I know that if you're reading this, a lot of what you do might be virtual and much of what I shared might not apply to you. I only ask that you intently consider what does apply and approach your work as if it all does. Doing so can create a more welcoming environment for superfat and infinifat people like me. You can make sure that we receive care we so desperately need with dignity and respect. Collaborating with and learning from advocacy groups like ASDAH and other HAES®️ - aligned organizations and healthcare professionals is a wonderful way to always continue learning how to better serve superfat and infinifat people.
Also, I encourage you to get help in making your business or service more accessible and weight-inclusive.
Pay the most marginalized fat folks to help you figure out where to begin and to help you implement and execute improvements when you discover the need for them. I offer this exact service myself, because I (and the people I advocate for) stand to benefit most from it.
You can become part of the solution to the problems I've shared, when you can accept that there will always be more to know and more room to grow.