Ramping My Voice for National Disability Awareness Month 2014

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Disability Awareness Month

For National Disability Awareness Month, I decided to write a letter to the local newspapers with the purpose of sharing my story as a woman of color with a disability who is fighting for equality and justice for all abilities.  I am still waiting to see if my article will be published, but in the meantime, I thought that I would share my article with my fellow readers, advocates, and supporters.

March is National Disability Awareness Month, and this is a very important awareness and advocacy moment for a woman of color with a disability like myself; I am a macro-minded social worker (LMSW), and a disability rights consultant, writer, and advocate who founded a disability rights advocacy organization last summer called Ramp Your Voice! in Winnsboro, SC.  Living proudly with a disability has greatly impacted the way that I view myself.  My brittle bones and shorter stature does not make me different; it gives me an unique way to view and experience life, and those around me.

Growing up, I did not notice that I was different from my classmates because they did not ostracize me from being in a [wheel]chair; the only times I realized I was not like everyone else was by the stares/whispers/finger pointing I received from adults.  Even as a late 20-something, it is always the adults that struggle with my disability status; children seem to not be fazed by your disability once you explain to them (in terms that they understand) why you are in a chair.  The reason why adults have such a challenging time recognizing and valuing the humanness of those with disabilities is because we learn to stop being curious.  That lack of curiosity causes us to be fearful to ask questions that could eliminate misconceptions and stereotypes about those who have different abilities in communicating, moving about, and interacting with their environment.

Shattering the myths and prejudices those like myself endure on a day-to-day basis is what propelled me to spearhead my own place and space within the disability rights movement.  My story as a triple minority – African American, female, and disabled – is one that has to be shared in order to empower those who look like me.  I do not consider my life or story to be inspirational because I have learned to turn the seemingly sour lemons life bestowed upon me into some of the sweetest pink lemonade you will ever taste on this side of the Mississippi River.  My disability is not a disadvantage; I have been blessed to encounter amazing people who see me for more than the four wheels I travel on.  My disability does not define me; I define it.  For someone who was given only 4-8 years to live, I learned quickly to be fearless and unapologetic about believing that the sky is the limit for someone like me.  I decided not to stand (or sit, in my case) idly, waiting for someone to take notice or ask me about who I am and whose I am.  I set forth a mission to share my story because I know that I was given this life for a reason, and it is up to me to fulfill the purpose the Creator has for me.  This month, I conducted a presentation at the 2014 NASW-SC Spring Symposium where I discussed the plight of people with disabilities in America and in South Carolina, and how and why social workers can (and should) become involved in disability advocacy.  Being afforded such a grand opportunity reinforced the idea that “all people matter,” which is the theme for Social Work Month 2014.  My experiences, my struggles, my successes, my pain, and my truth matters, and are valuable and worthy.

Being a self-advocate and empowering others with disabilities are what drives the vision I have for Ramp Your Voice!  The battles that people with disabilities face today are too great to remain silent:  extreme budget cuts to Medicaid and other programs that people with disabilities rely on for our day to day living; still being denied access into buildings and other entities that we have a right to utilize; and the incredible disparities in employment and educational opportunities that keeps us deep in the trenches of poverty are barriers that infiltrate the lives of fellow South Carolinians with disabilities each and every day.  National Disability Awareness Month is the opportune time for self-advocates like myself to continue demanding and fighting for equality and justice for ALL abilities.  When one person, regardless of ability, is prevented from fully participating in society, this affects us all.  I plan to ramp my voice for myself and others this month, and every month, until our society is inclusive for all people.  What are you prepared to do?

Tell me, fellow self-advocates, how are you RAMPING YOUR VOICE this month, and every month, when it comes to disability rights and advocacy?  I would love to read your articles and the stories that you are sharing for this observance.  Remember, we cannot wait for others to validate our stories; it is our duty to share our stories and make them heard by the mainstream.
(Featured headline image:  Courtesy of The Independent Center.)

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