After spending my teenage years going through misdiagnosis and medical trauma I was catapulted into the world of disability, my world spinning into unfamiliar territory. To be completely honest, until the onset of my own disability, I had remained largely oblivious to the hurdles that Disabled people encounter daily.
The day I was discharged, I found the spaces that had once welcomed me unthinkingly, now confronted me with barriers that felt insurmountable. Doors I had previously breezed through, now seemed to scoff at my attempt to traverse them. In the blink of an eye, my perspective shifted, the world as I knew it irrevocably altered.
It was the revelation that, while I was privileged to have been oblivious to these challenges in the past, I should have been aware and proactive much earlier. My experience is not an isolated one, one in four people are Disabled, and 80% of disabilities are acquired between the ages of 18 and 64.
Disability Pride Month is a time to take pride in our identities, celebrate our communities, and reflect on the significant strides society has made towards inclusivity. However, it also serves as a stark reminder of the progress yet to be made. It is paramount that we not only celebrate our achievements but also keep bringing attention to the necessary work that lies ahead.
I want to kick things off by saluting the tireless work of Disabled activists, leaders, and influencers who are forging a path for the next wave of change. Their relentless efforts encourage me, as they tirelessly champion disability rights and inclusivity, proving to be true change-makers in our society. Personally these individuals include; Sophie Morgan, Maayan Ziv, KR Liu, Madison Lawson, Selma Blair, Troy Nankin, Maria Town, Jennifer Lee, Nalleli Cobo, Chella Man, Sinead Burke, Jim LeBrect, Imani Barbarin and Andraéa LaVant just to name a few.
Thanks to these activists, their peers and colleagues alike, there has been progress in every area of our society from travel to media. Sophie Morgan, won legal reform for travellers with disabilities, including removing the cap on fines for airlines who damage passengers’ wheelchairs. Jennifer Lee is the founder and Executive Director of Asian Americans with Disabilities Initiative (AADI) which creates community and raises awareness around disability justice for Asian Americans. And Sinead Burke, who joined forces with British Vogue to support the publication in the realization of its May 2023 edition titled ‘Reframing Fashion.’ Highlighting DisabilityJustice, accessibility, equity, intersectionality and pride, as well as gracing the cover.
Here are a few ideas of things you can do and movements you can get involved with to proactively make this world a more inclusive place for everybody:
Include Authentic and Amplified Representation Within Your Advertising: The representation of Disabled people in media is currently a mere 4.2%. Furthermore, it’s estimated that an overwhelming 95% of these roles are enacted by non-disabled actors. Advertising paints a bleak picture, with a paltry 0.9% representation. Behind the camera, these numbers are even more dismal. We need to strive for authentic and increased portrayal of Disabled people in media, TV, and film. This not only involves casting Disabled talent in front of the camera, but also includes hiring Disabled writers, directors, and crew members to influence the narratives from inception to execution.
Embed Accessibility in Every Budget: Making accessibility a mandatory line item on every budget ensures that it becomes an inherent part of planning rather than an afterthought. This financial commitment underscores the importance of inclusivity and creates a structure to make all events, programs, and projects accessible to all.
Inclusive Hiring Practices: Disabled people should be hired for all roles, not just those specifically related to disability. This expands the scope of opportunities and allows Disabled individuals to bring their diverse perspectives to various aspects of the organization.
Appoint Access Coordinators: For every project, an Access Coordinator should be assigned to ensure that accessibility requirements are met. This role will involve planning, implementing, and monitoring accessibility measures, enabling the project to be inclusive from the outset.
Discard Assumptions: It’s crucial not to assume what someone can or can not do or what they may or may not need. Disabilities can be non-apparent, and peoples access requirements can vary greatly. Encourage open conversations and avoid making assumptions about what someone can or cannot do based on their appearance.
Employ Disabled Disability Consultants: While it’s essential to foster an open dialogue about disability in the workplace, it’s equally important not to rely solely on your Disabled colleagues for this education. Hire Disabled Disability Consultants who can provide professional insights and advice. Remember, not all Disabled people are experts on all aspects of disability, but they do hold expertise in their own lived experiences, which is invaluable and should be listened to.
Prioritize Disability in your Diversity Agenda: While diversity agendas often focus on aspects like race, gender, and sexual orientation, it’s crucial that disability is included too. This ensures that the unique challenges faced by Disabled individuals are recognized and addressed.
Implement Disability-Inclusive and Accessible Hiring Practices: From the job posting to the interview process, every stage should be accessible and inclusive. This includes providing job postings in accessible formats, offering accommodations during the interview process, and ensuring the workplace is inclusive and accessible.
Abolish the Subminimum Wage: In an unsettling majority of 31 out of 50 US states, there’s a law—14(c)—that enables employers to pay Disabled individuals less than the minimum wage for identical work. This grotesque practice, known as the subminimum wage, commodifies disability in a manner that devalues the work of Disabled individuals, sometimes paying them less than a dollar per hour. This blatantly unfair and discriminatory practice is an assault on equality and dignity that must be eradicated.
Achieve Genuine Marriage Equality: The current system penalizes Disabled individuals for marrying, with potential reduction or complete revocation of benefits from Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), or Medicaid upon marriage. These programs are lifelines for many, providing essential support that should not be jeopardized by personal decisions like marriage. The existing legislation effectively denies many Disabled individuals the right to marry, and this grossly unfair reality demands urgent correction.
Secure Safe and Equitable Travel for All: Heart-wrenching tales of travel turned nightmare, such as the tragic incident of Disability Activist Engracia Figueroa, are far too common. Three months after United Airlines damaged her custom wheelchair, she passed away. This tragic incident is not an isolated one. The Department of Transportation’s February 2020 Air Travel Consumer Report revealed that US air carriers mishandled an astounding 10,302 wheelchairs and scooters in 2019, averaging 28 per day. This highlights a shocking inequity in the travel experience for Disabled individuals, and we must commit to making travel safe and equitable for everyone.
Mandate Global Anti-Discrimination Policies: It’s high time all 193 member states of the United Nations implemented comprehensive anti-discrimination policies, bolstering disability-specific laws and rights. A comparative study on disability legislation shockingly reveals that only 45 countries have anti-discrimination and disability-specific laws. We must urgently address this gross inequality and work tirelessly to foster a world where discrimination on the basis of disability becomes a thing of the past. Small businesses and large corporations alike should prioritize implementing such policies and practices.
Self-Education: Begin by educating yourself about the realities faced by the disabled community. A good starting point can be as simple as following hashtags on social media such as #DisabilityRights, #SpoonieCommunity, #A11y, #Accessibility, #RightsOnFlights, #IStayStrong, #DisabledAndCute. These hashtags offer a window into the experiences, concerns, and triumphs of Disabled individuals, and they’ll allow you to gain insights into the everyday barriers that this community faces. Understanding is the first step toward empathy and effective allyship.
Amplify Disabled Voices: Practice ‘passing the mic’ by giving Disabled people a platform to share their experiences, knowledge, and perspectives, and pay them for their time and expertise. This could mean inviting Disabled speakers to events, featuring Disabled writers in publications, or sharing content created by Disabled people on your social media. Amplifying Disabled voices not only fosters representation but also allows these critical perspectives to reach a wider audience.
Prioritize Accessibility: Ensure that all spaces, physical or virtual, are accessible. This includes everything from installing ramps and lifts in buildings, to providing sign language interpretation, closed captioning and transcripts for all content, to ensuring that websites are navigable with screen readers, avoiding plug-ins or overlays and going beyond the basic compliance. Promote and participate in the design of accessible environments in your community, workplace, and social circles.
Advocate alongside the Disabled Community: Realize that advocacy is not a spectator sport, and the fight for disability rights cannot be shouldered by the Disabled community alone. Allies are crucial in this fight. Use your platforms to call out discrimination when you see it, to push for laws and policies that protect disability rights, and to ensure that the voices of Disabled people are heard in the spaces where decisions are made. It’s not about speaking for Disabled people, but about using your voice to amplify theirs. The most powerful changes happen when we all stand together, advocating for a world that is fair, inclusive, and accessible to all.
Be proud. Navigating this world filled with ableism is tough and navigating our conditions can also be a challenge. I am constantly learning that we can be proud of being Disabled and yet still have a complicated relationship with our disabilities.
In conclusion, as we enter Disability Pride Month, let’s not just celebrate the change-makers, but also tangibly support their endeavors with necessary resources and funding. Let’s amplify the community’s voices by providing impactful platforms to continue their influential work. Remember, disability rights extend beyond the Disabled community. They contribute to a more inclusive society, benefitting all, including those who are non-Disabled. From legislation to innovative solutions, the advancements and decisions inspired or enacted by Disabled individuals profoundly enrich our society. In recognizing this, we cultivate empathy, understanding, and a more inclusive world for all.
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