I walked towards the receptionist’s desk in the building where the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) is located. I was with my three suitemates and heard the woman behind the desk ask us each to sign in. She obviously saw my cane and informed the young women with me that she would write my name down.
“What is her name?” she asked. I was standing less than five feet from her, but she did not think to speak directly to me. It is not an uncommon experience, but somehow this morning it was especially poignant. It was our first day of orientation as summer interns with AAPD. I stepped forward, and told her my name.
My life has been full of opportunities where I have had to “step forward” in order to make myself visible once I have been disregarded as a person who deserves respect and consideration. As a black, blind lesbian, I have an obvious interest in the various civil rights movements advanced by people who have to consistently “step forward” in life. Ethnic minorities, women, LGBTQI, and people with disabilities have long been foot soldiers for justice. What has not been appreciated is how each movement has walked in each others footsteps. We are all striving to enter the proverbial “Promised land” of equality in this world. We are all standing five feet in front of gatekeepers, systems, and structures that render us invisible. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” If we believe that to be true then we must support the work of every individual who takes on the challenge of working for social equality regardless of whether we have walked in that person’s shoes.
I am anticipating a great summer as an intern with the AAPD. My placement is with the members of IDAC (Interfaith Disability Advisory Coalition). I will assist the various committee members in their goal to have their communities of faith “step forward” on issues related to the employment and equal treatment of persons with disabilities.
I bought a good pair of walking shoes before I left my home in Atlanta. I knew that there was going to be a lot of “stepping forward,” and I wanted to be ready for the miles ahead. I plan to tie them up when I wake in the morning, humming the song many have sung before: “Walk together children. Don’t you get weary. There is a great camp meeting in the promised land.” I must sleep now, for there are many miles to go.