Recently I saw a post on Twitter that inspired a little thought. The person linked to a blog discussing when she switched from being a passive to an active disability rights supporter. This made me think about my experience, both as a self-advocate and advocating for others.
At disABILITY LINK, there is a program called, take ACTION! that focuses on educating participants about advocacy efforts and encouraging them to become more active in their efforts. When I took this course, I realized that generally, my focus had been on speaking up for myself, but not necessarily for people with disabilities or trying to change the system. Part of this could be because the school system I grew up in kept people with disabilities pretty isolated. The “Special Ed” classes were kept apart from the mainstream classes; those of us in the “mainstream” didn’t get an opportunity to interact with one another. I was the only person I knew of with a visual impairment for the 13 years I spent in K-12. Fortunately I had my vision teacher (a woman named Joanna Eaton from Northeast Georgia RESA) who worked with me from Kindergarten-12th grade; she instilled in me a strong ability to speak up for my accommodations in the classroom and in general.
After I went to college, my advocacy efforts were still focused on my needs. The disability services office wasn’t a very unifying place for students with disabilities and I didn’t know of any efforts to organize. It wasn’t until many years later that I heard of an organization called disABILITY LINK, I had never heard of a Center for Independent Living, and had no idea what they did exactly. My friend started working there and it sounded like a very unique environment; from him, I learned about ADAPT and other groups that fought for rights of people with disabilities.
Eventually, I made my way on the board of directors for the organization and later came to work for them. I can honestly say that my shift from primarily self-advocacy to focusing on the community in general didn’t start until after I began working for disABILITY LINK.
By working here [disABILITY LINK], my eyes opened up to issues that don’t commonly receive media coverage. I heard stories of people’s lack of access and the social barriers encountered (social barriers that I had first-hand experience with). I felt like a part of the disability community for the first time. Not long after beginning my position of social media coordinator, I stumbled upon ILWAD and found another great place where people with disabilities could get together and find common ground.
So, I can thank my involvement in my local Center for Independent Living for allowing me to embrace my inner advocate and begin speaking up for others and attempting to make a change for the better in my community and the world. I can thank social media for helping me spread the Independent Living message as well as ILWAD for being a supportive environment where people can embrace who they are and realize that they are beautiful, not broken.
When did you become a more active advocate? Are you still coming out of your shell? Please leave a comment below.
**ADAPT will be having a rally September 17-22 regarding medicaid “reform”