Sunday, June 3, 2012

Advocates and Activists

My name is Frances and I am a person with a disability. I am proud to be a member of such a diverse and wonderful group of people.

It has been quite a journey for me to both recognize and embrace my disability identity. I have an invisible disability. Before college, disability was not something that was often discussed.  I had no community of individuals who understood my disability, beyond my own family. I never knew that I could identify as a person with a disability and I had to community to identify with even if I did.

Going to college was the first time that I met and identified with a group of individuals with disabilities. Together, we started a student disability group. Through that experience, I learned that no matter how different our disabilities, people with disabilities have far more that unites us than divides us. We all face struggles and live in a world that is often is discriminatory towards people with disabilities. We are underestimated and overlooked. We are disempowered and often denied our civil rights. It is only by joining together, by organizing, by educating, and by advocating that we can change this status.  As I became more interested and involved in running a disability student group, I began to realize how much I care about disability rights. I felt that I was part of a movement for change and that knowledge was both exciting and empowering. I had found my passion.

Interning with the American Association of People with Disabilities is the next step on my journey to becoming a disability rights advocate. This first week of orientation has been an eye-opening experience for me. I have had to chance to meet so many amazing speakers and mentors. They all have a different history and background in disability. Hearing their stories and experiences made me realize that there are so many different ways and paths to being involved in the disability rights movement.

Yet the people I have learned the very most from this week are my fellow interns. As I get to know each one of them, I see how many gifts and how much spirit they bring to the world. I see their humor, their kindness, their growing confidence, their honesty, and their strength. It makes me wonder how anyone can see disability as something inherently negative or as something lacking. People with disabilities bring greater diversity and new perspectives to the world and that is beautiful.

 I do not think I have ever experienced so much honesty and acceptance in a week as I have this week. So I will be honest in return when I say that I've done more laughing and crying this week than I have in a long time. It has been the very best kind of laughing and the most healing kind of crying. I feel so fortunate to get to meet all of these people, who are all part of the disability rights movement, whether they know it yet or not.

We have been told often this week that we are the future of this movement. We are becoming advocates and activists. The disability rights movement has a very long way to go, but my fellow interns give me faith that the future will be bright.

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