At Disability Rights Washington (DRW), I am faced with this question everyday through the work I do. First off, “disability” is an umbrella term that encompasses different aspects. For instance, there are the obvious, “physical disabilities”, such as when one uses a motorized scooter or wheelchair because walking may be difficult or painful. There are developmental disabilities, such as Down syndrome; there are mental disabilities such as posttraumatic stress disorder and learning disabilities like dyslexia. There are others such as deafness, blindness, and even traumatic brain injuries (TBI).
What’s important to understand is that there are people (myself included) who may not define by their disability or think they have a disability. There are days when I do define myself by my disability (I am a Little Person and only stand at 3 ft. 4.5 inches tall), and days where I don’t. But whatever someone chooses to be defined as, it’s important to own who you are and be proud of who you are. Not only that, but I’ve learned that it is important to fight for your rights and have the ability to be an advocate for yourself.
I came into DukeEngage hoping that I would learn how to be a better advocate not just for others with disabilities, but myself included. All of my life, I have had my mom to look for to be my advocate. And now that I am halfway done through college, I am figuring out how I can better advocate and speak up for what I need.
Here is what I’ve learned thus far:
2) People with disabilities are not meant to be your inspiration. While this may seem contradictory, I recently learned that people who find inspiration in those with disabilities often do because they think that people with disabilities cannot do everyday activities that those without disabilities can do. This creates a stigma that people who can’t walk or have difficulty talking have to go above and beyond to achieve the norm. And when they do, they are other people’s inspiration. The truth is, they are trying to live their life the way that works for them. I learned this idea through Stella Young’s TED talk, which my supervisor recommended me to watch. However, while this idea is true, I feel it is okay to find inspiration in someone, as long as you feel you will gain knowledge and benefit from that person in the future. For instance, I admire and am inspired by Stella Young’s talk not because she got up in the morning and was able to get in front of an audience, on her scooter and give a big speech. I am inspired by her because she is an honest speaker, and she taught me ways on how to look at myself as a Little Person, and to be proud of what I do every day. (Here is the TED talk Stella Young gave about inspiration: http://www.ted.com/talks/stella_young_i_m_not_your_inspiration_thank_you_very_much?language=en)
3) Don’t be afraid to ask for help. As I am still learning how to use the bus system and Seattle, one of my biggest fears is getting left behind. So, I ask one of the staff members to help accompany me to the bus stop until I get on. Through this, I have developed a great friendship with my supervisor and co-workers, and I feel as if I am becoming a part of their team.
4) Don’t be afraid to pitch your opinion and to speak up. One of my roles this summer at DRW is working with the communications department and learning how to create awareness videos for the public. I recently came up with a topic for a potential video project, pitched it to my supervisor, and suddenly, I was working on a proposal form. Yesterday was the first day we started shooting, and I am excited to see my perspective, opinions, and thoughts come to life in a video that could potentially raise awareness for those who are not aware of what people with physical disabilities need.
A big milestone coming too that is important for our office is the 25th Anniversary of the American with Disabilities Act being signed (the ADA). This Act is what essentially helped anyone with any type of disability gain their rights for access and accommodation in the nation. And in reflecting back on how far we’ve come since the ADA, a lot has been done to make our country more accessible. But retrospect, more things can definitely be improved. There is an ADA rally coming up on July 22nd from 4-6 PM at Westlake Park in Seattle, and I am hoping that by the 50th Anniversary, we can officially say that the whole United States of America is one of the best countries for its accessibility.
For more information about disability awareness, visit www.rootedinrights.org for more information, and check out their YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/user/RootedInRightsVideo.