Saturday, June 10, 2017

10 Things I Will Do This Summer: Centering Disabilties

10 Things I Will Do This Summer

As the Spring 2017 term of school is coming to a close, and summer is upon us (rain or shine), I wanted to write about how representation matters, and how we can all do a little bit to promote acceptance and the de-stigmatization of disabilities. I’ve created a list of ten simple things everyone can do this summer (and beyond) to learn more about disabilities, and create awareness.

1) When you are looking for a summer read, try choosing an author who includes people of different abilities, or an author who lives with disability themselves. I guarantee that when you hear from people living with disabilities it will give you a new perspective. In addition, publishers need to know that there is a market for people with disabilities.

2) Share something on social media about someone with a disability or something about legislation or programs that impact those with disabilities. We often feel like the world is too large and our voices cannot be heard, for sure, but even small acts like sharing on social media can make an impact. Imagine if you and all of your friends shared something, then all of their friends, etc. Change has to begin somewhere.

3) See a film or TV show that centers a person with disabilities or is made by a person with disabilities. If you are having a hard time finding something to watch, then take that as a note of how much stigma still impacts the lives of people with disabilities. It is getting better, but we have a long way to go.

4) Take a few minutes to look up a disability that you don’t know much about. There are a LOT of disabilities that are not visible in the media. Everyone has probably heard of autism, but what about something more obscure like Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome? I know that the more people I meet in the disability community the more I get to know about different ways that people are impacted, and how to work to make sure everyone’s accommodations are met.

5) If you can, take a class about disabilities or join a program like the Kiwanis Camp capstone. Or volunteer! Not everyone has the time or money to take a class, but if you do, try taking that extra class that is outside of your major, or do the Kiwanis Camp capstone. As Allan Cushing told us in an interview earlier this year, programs like the Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp can literally be life-changing. Who knows, you might even change someone else’s life along the way!

6) If you are a sports fan, try looking for news about the Special Olympics and athletes who are differently-abled. You might learn more about adaptive sports, or do a quick internet search, and you’ll find something like the article “12 Incredible Athletes with Disabilities.”  Find someone to follow in your favorite sport who has a disability.

7) If you are an able-bodied person, take a few minutes the next time you have to go out to consider how a differently-abled person might be impacted. For example, some things to consider might be: are there any steps/stairs involved? Even one step can hinder some people. Is there an elevator? How far away is it? Are there chairs? Are there chairs for all body types? Some people need armless chairs, some people need armed chairs. How far do you have to walk? Some people might be only able to walk or stand for short periods, if at all. Do you have to wait in line? How might people get to this place with different modes of transportation? Also, try thinking beyond the idea that all people with disabilities necessarily use a wheelchair. However, don’t forget about wheelchair users. Is there room for a wheelchair? Do automatic doors work if they are there at all? Also consider people who are impacted by loud noises, bright lights, or chaos. How about people who need noise or light cues? This is only a mental exercise, but it can make you see anew.

8) Talk to your friends and family about disability issues. Do you ever bring up disabilities with your friends and family? If you know someone who is disabled or if you are disabled, you probably do. How do you talk about it? You might want to say that you are doing little things to bring more awareness into your life about disabilities. See what your friends and family have to say about it. Most of us will actually experience some kind of disability in our lifetime, so these are important conversations to have.

9) Try using person-first or identity-first language. (What is this? Wiki with info) It can be hard to change our language usage, no doubt, but it is important to some people. There is controversy about using person-first language, and controversy about curtailing language use at all. With that said, it doesn’t hurt to try to adjust the way we speak and write. Sometimes it is nice not to be completely offensive to people. Changing language may not take away underlying stigmas, but I’m of the mind that language does have some kind of impact. Don’t be hard on yourself. You won’t get it right one hundred percent of the time, but cultivating an awareness about language can be a positive experience. Even if you don’t want to change your language, just being aware of what person-first and identity-first language is is going to benefit you.

10) Be an advocate: for yourself and/or for others. Take your new-found knowledge of disabilities into the world with you. Be an advocate for disability awareness and acceptance. When you vote, remember people with disabilities. Be vocal about challenging others who may not consider those with disabilities. If you are setting up a venue for an event, make sure it is completely accessible. Are you hiring someone for a job? Make sure you are reaching out to people with disabilities too. Don’t think of making accommodations as a bad thing. Think of how it makes someone’s life better. Sometimes little things mean a lot. I’m not going to lie, sometimes being an advocate is difficult and frustrating. But, I can say it is truly worth it. To think of all of the change I’ve seen in my lifetime alone is exciting and gives me hope. There is more work to do, and that is why we need you too!

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