Disabled like MeApril 14, 2012
I am an African American. I am a woman. I am disabled.
I stand as a triple minority, and each of these identities has afforded me a variety of unique life experiences. As I enter a room in my wheelchair, I am faced with the inevitable stares of pity and discernment. The world seems to view my wheelchair as a hindrance, but I see my disability as a blessing that has provided me a platform for social change.
When I was younger, I was a leader in transforming the legal treatment of people living with disabilities. I observed that disabled students were dropping out of high school at an alarming rate. The underlying reason behind this startling pattern was the pervasive notion that students with disabilities are incapable of being educated.
Though many of you may not notice us, young people with disabilities are on the cusp of a social revolution for equality. I am inspired by those who are working to effectively eliminate discrimination against people with disabilities. In order to ensure that the rights of disabled people are recognized, we must tackle the issue of ableism — the institutionalized oppression of persons with disabilities. Ableism creates a system of privilege for those without physical or mental limitations.
University of Maryland women’s studies doctoral candidate Angel Miles is leading a second disability rights movement to fight ableism and other injustices. Miles says, “My liberation is dependent on the eradication of injustice associated with all of these identities, not just one of them.”
The daily challenges that Miles and I face range from being unable to utilize basic methods of public transportation, reaching a public event to find steps we cannot climb, or working to receive accommodations in employment and educational environments.
In spite of these challenges, we continue to press on in our fight to ensure that inequality is eradicated. When I interned at the White House, I grew to admire Director of Priority Placement Rebecca Cokley. During the 2008 presidential campaign, she worked on President Barack Obama’s committee on disability policy.
The Obama administration has given Cokley the opportunity to advance equal employment for disabled Americans. According to Cokley, “Equal employment means to me going beyond a functional shift and resulting in a philosophical shift in the expectations of young people with disabilities so that in elementary school, when students present what they want to be when they grow up, no one will say that a kid with a disability cannot be an astrophysicist, a lawyer, a chef, or whatever they may want to be.”
Cokley is as a personal inspiration because she demonstrates that despite the subordinate place society has given me, I can rise above these stereotypical expectations. When the world expects people with disabilities to fail, we triumph instead. I will embody this triumphant spirit by igniting change within my community so that the next generation has the strength to overcome all barriers.
I am disabled. I am an advocate. I am the new revolution.