Day Al-Mohamed, my mentor, has already been a big help to me during this internship experience. As I was challenged to come up with an answer to where I see myself in five years, the question of whether I want to engage in policy advocacy or implementation of policy was very apparent. My political experience thus far has largely had a foundation in grassroots advocacy, especially in the non-profit sector. The idea that this environment may not be the one I want to be in, or even the one I work best in, is hard to let go of. It’s been where I’ve been vaguely setting my career goals for the last five years. However, working with Day as her mentee has made me realize perhaps it’s a good thing that I’m starting to realize this now. I’ve learned from her that simply “floating” through one’s career, taking whatever happens to be in your sight next, is rarely meaningful. It’s important to be deliberate in where you want to go and most importantly, acknowledging you won’t necessarily stay on the same path.
Nor will you necessarily get onto the path you want to be on right away, either. This was something I took away from my lunch with Lacy Pittman, a policy analyst at the National Council on Independent Living (NCIL). She also reminded me how important it is to articulate what my passion is and stick to it, even if I’m taking some time to reach some specifics while I still can. Although considering how she also told me about her advocacy in favor of specific legislation with NCIL, perhaps there are opportunities to both advocate for and implement policy, even if not to the same extent. I’m glad I had lunch with Lacy, since NCIL is a group I would certainly see myself working with in the future. NCIL reflects my philosophy that people with disabilities are the individuals who are able to most effectively deem which ways of living and working are best for themselves. This right to individual autonomy & philosophy of “nothing about it without us” are components which have largely reflected my past and present organizing work around reproductive justice as well. Therefore, these are two components I’ve found where one can find an intersection of reproductive justice and disability justice. The independent living movement and the reproductive justice movement both question inherent medical models in our society which articulate disability as serving to decrease one’s quality of life. As someone with an autism spectrum disorder, I certainly find solidarity in this way of thinking with my frustration when I hear individuals who want to find a cure for autism- while I can understand why many loved ones of people with autism would wish for such medical intervention, those of us with autism spectrum disorders do not see ourselves as “problems” or even “puzzles” for that matter. While communication may be difficult at times, it does not make us any less as human beings.
Lastly, I was also thankful that P.J. Edington, Government Programs Executive at IBM, also took time out of her day to meet with me. From her I learned how important it is to build multiple professional networks. For example, while Smith College prides itself on not having an “old boys club” but an “ageless women’s network” it’s up to me to seek it out. Hopefully I’ll have the opportunity to do so this summer and maybe I’ll even meet some additional members of the disability who are also Smith College alumnae while I’m at it!