Fragrance Free: A Place for All of Us
When I think about access, I think about love…and I-got-your-back. It’s in big things, but it’s also in the little things we do moment by moment to ensure that we all- in all our individual bodies- get to be present fiercely as we make change.
Thank you for being mindful to co-create gatherings accessible to those of us with chemical injury, aka “multiple chemical sensitivities,” a serious environmental illness that’s become increasingly common with the continued practices of environmental racism and injustice, capitalism, and a largely unregulated fragrance industry. The more we integrate this intention and practice from start to finish, the more likely all our beloved community will be able to gift these gatherings with our presence and offerings by taking the risk to attend.
These notes continue to evolve from gathering to gathering. Please be in touch to share your learnings and feedback.
Here are some key opportunities to diminish toxic barriers for those of us with chemical injury, and help ensure we all stay connected with loved ones across our lives and work:
Identify options that are wheelchair accessible and close to public transportation, that do not have known recurring toxin exposure, and where you will be able to work with the host to detox and otherwise transition the space and bathrooms.
Visit the venue in person to connect with the host and ensure the space and bathrooms are fully wheelchair accessible. With the host, assess how environmentally safe its space and practices currently are:
- What are the building conditions? Is there a known mold issue? What building materials exist (paints, stains, varnishes, carpet, flooring, adhesives)? How long ago were they installed? Off-gassing often continues for years after application. Sparks et al. (1999) estimated that latex paints with volatile organic compounds (VOCs) off-gas less than 50% of their VOCs in the first year.
- The vast majority of chemicals in fragrance are derived from petroleum, “found to cause significant attritional effects to the nervous system and immune system after prolonged exposure.” Is there recurring exposure to toxins through the regular use of chemical and scented products (pesticides, cleaning agents, air fresheners)? Is there a laundry facility or hair salon connected to the space? Do visitors regularly track in colognes and perfumes, whose heaviest (“base note”) molecules can linger for days and weeks as they evaporate, after our sense of smell can detect it?
Invite the host to meet this event as an opportunity to support us all in moving closer to collective access in an ongoing way, and consider transitioning to non-toxic practice both leading up to and well beyond the event, i.e. no more air fresheners, always fragrance free soaps in bathrooms, always unscented and non-toxic cleaning products.
If the venue will not be fully accessible in terms of bathroom, environment, or mobility this time around and you have exhausted other options, make sure to integrate this access info into your event communications so loved ones can best assess and plan for access and safety.
As you plan your outreach and communications strategy, commit to fragrance free in event communications from start to finish. Integrate a request that everyone come fragrance free, alongside the resources your guests will need to join you in co-creating an accessible environment, with the rest of your access info across each event communication, online, print, and verbal. For instance:
Fragrance free request: Please join us in ensuring accessibility for beloved community members with chemical sensitivity and chronic illness by not bringing fragrances or scents on your clothes, hair, or skin from colognes and perfumes, scented laundry detergent, hair and body products, “natural” products, and essential oils. You can prepare in advance by not using products with fragrance, or by using fragrance free, non-toxic products.
On creating accessibility, community love, and how to go fragrance free (from a working-class disabled femme of colour perspective): http://www.brownstargirl.org/1/post/2012/03/fragrance-free-femme-of-colour-realness-draft-15.html
Sharing community with those of us who are chemically sensitive: http://eastbaymeditation.org/accessibility/PDF/MCS-ACCESSIBILITY-BASICS.pdf
A list of safer products: http://eastbaymeditation.org/accessibility/scentfree.html
Early on, reach out to those of us who have identified ourselves as resources to help read over and adapt template language to your audience and integrate it with other access info. Plan for ample time to go back and forth with your designer. Ensure the access info is visually highlighted enough in online and print materials so folks who may not be familiar with fragrance free practice will be less likely to miss your request. Make sure to include info on wheelchair, mobility, and transportation access, as well as sliding scale/cost and how to request support for access needs.
For gatherings where participants register or you phonebank or outreach in person, include a question on the registration form or rap sheet to identify collective access needs as well as a question to ensure all participants understand why and how to be fragrance free and affirmatively agree to co-create an environmentally safe and accessible gathering. One way to to do this is to ask guests to identify which of the following most reflects their practice:
1. From day to day, I do not use and am not exposed to any scented products on or around my hair, body, clothing, or living space. I will be mindful to avoid exposure en route to the event and do not need to change my practices in preparation for this event (Please confirm by reviewing this link).
2. I use or am exposed to some scented products (shampoos, lotions, styling products, laundry detergent and fabric softeners, “natural” products and essential oils, colognes and perfumes, air fresheners) from day to day, and will need to transition 3-5 days in advance to co-create a safe and accessible environment for loved ones who cannot tolerate exposure to chemicals and fragrance. I am familiar with how to make these preparations and will be mindful to avoid exposure en route to the event (Please confirm by reviewing this link).
3. I regularly use scented products (shampoos, lotions, styling products, laundry detergent and fabric softeners, “natural” products and essential oils, colognes and perfumes, air fresheners) and am unfamiliar with how to co-create a safe and accessible environment for loved ones who cannot tolerate exposure to chemicals and fragrance. Please call to support my preparations. (Please review this link).
Follow up by phone or in person with anyone who identifies the third option to support them in understanding the request and agreeing to make preparations.
Well in advance of the event (ideally, several weeks, or at minimum during the week prior), ensure the space and bathroom are free of active exposure to toxins, chemicals, and fragrance. Alongside implementing your communications and outreach efforts with a clear fragrance free request, this also can mean removing toxins from the space, i.e. unplugging air fresheners, ventilating the room, using an air filter to run before and during the event, and cleaning the event space with non-toxic, fragrance free products such as baking soda and vinegar, as needed.
As with the event space, detox as needed. To ensure environmental safety throughout the gathering, block off use of any commercial scented soaps, and replace with fragrance free soap bottles and signs requesting everyone use them. Remove any aroma diffusers or air fresheners with fragrance (non-toxic, fragrance free Airzyme is a great safe alternative). Hydrogen peroxide and vinegar are great for non-toxic and low-cost heavy-duty disinfecting. Add all genders bathroom signs to bathroom doors, if not already marked that way.
Ahead of time, prepare print materials and request volunteers to day-of create a clearly marked fragrance free reserved seating area. You can do this with flyers on each seat or sections that are roped off for people who are completely fragrance free. This should ideally be next to some ventilation (windows, air filter) where possible and definitely away from possible recurring exposure (by a door where most attendees enter and leave the venue), as well as in an equitable location (not off to the corner where folks can’t see or engage as well as others).
For events where performers or trainers have environmental illness, ensure the immediate seating areas around them are fragrance free.
At the door, ensure the meeters and greeters are grounded in a spirit of invitation and collective access. Support them ahead of time to communicate clearly and compassionately with everyone who walks in the door about where to sit, and with latecomers to honor reserved fragrance free seating. Designate volunteers ahead of time to support environmental safety during the event as needed.
At the event’s welcome and during the event as needed, have the event facilitator or MC remind the attendees when they talk about logistics to be mindful of where they are sitting, to use the unscented soap in bathrooms, and to not smoke cigarettes during the event.