Disability activism strengthens.
For some disabled people who get involved, it opens up opportunities for friendship and “chosen family” among other disabled people who may have missed them all of their lives. Disability activists are admired, at least in some circles. Activism can be a powerful source of pride. Disability activism is also useful. It really makes positive changes.
But not everyone can become a full-time activist or even a part-time attorney for more than an occasional personal need. There can be many reasons for this:
- Effective activism takes time and effort to learn and requires a personal sacrifice of time, energy, and resources that many disabled people and their allies simply do not have.
- Some disability activism activities are still – sadly and embarrassingly – inaccessible to some disabled people.
- Some people have personalities who are good at activism, and some don’t. Some people enjoy activism and are naturally good at it. Many are not.
- Modern activism for social justice, including activism for the disabled, is often intimidating or even frightening. People are concerned that they do not know enough or are afraid of being publicly humiliated for “mistakes” they might make and for people who might offend them.
But none of these are reason enough to avoid disability activism altogether if its goals are your goals. There are ways to help that don’t require a major commitment or a major change in your life and personality.
1. Share disability articles and action notifications on your social media platforms
This is especially helpful if you have “friends” and “followers” from other professions and communities who do not spend much time with disability problems. Their credibility to them may lead at least some of them to read and think about disability for the first time or from a new perspective.
- Share an article on your Facebook page that explains why the Biden administration added home care to their infrastructure plan.
- Tweet about why current voting debates are important to you as a disabled person.
- Post a creative and compelling disability rights meme on Instagram.
2. Boost the voices and work of disabled activists
On social media in particular, you have built-in ways to promote what other people say and do. Fostering other people’s work and ideas is a valid and valuable way to contribute to disability discussions, especially if you are not yet comfortable explaining things in your own words.
It’s also a way to pass the microphone on to others who are struggling to be heard but have something valuable to say. In particular, non-disabled allies and disability activists should make it a priority to share the words and work of disability activists themselves.
- If you’re not sure how to express your own views on particularly contentious issues – like disability and racism, conflicting interpretations of autism, or different attitudes about the “right” terms for disability – you can have other things share or retweet people said that you like or think are interesting.
- As a non-disabled parent, if you are passionate about bullying disabled children in schools or funding disabled support services, try to share and support what disabled people say and do themselves before giving your own opinion.
- Social media isn’t the only place to do this. You can also center the work of disabled activists in conversations, presentations, and your own writing. Make sure to quote them correctly. Social media is essentially for you. So offline, you need to be careful not to imply that someone else’s words and ideas are your own.
3. Tell your own disability story
This is often the best way to express yourself. First, explain exactly how a disability problem affects you as a disabled person or as an ally of a disabled person.
However, if you are a non-disabled ally, such as a parent or spouse, you should not confuse your story with your disabled loved one’s own story. They may be related, but they are not the same. You can only really tell your story from your perspective.
Don’t stop with your story either. If your goal is concrete change, don’t just tell your story to make people feel bad for you or just focus on your own struggle. Whenever possible, draw clear connections between your personal situation and a broader disability problem, the impact on other disabled people, and the steps your audience can take to address the problem.
- Give a detailed description of how home care works for you or how home care would improve your life, and ask people to help fund home care.
- As the parent of a disabled child, share your concerns about problems in your child’s education and ask people to help fund better support services or enforce the Disability Education Act.
- Again, do not speak for a disabled child, spouse, or other family member, even if they do not have the resources to speak for themselves. Tell your story and how it includes it. Advocate with them, not for them. This may seem like a minor distinction, but it means a lot in the long run.
4. Combine advocacy for yourself or a loved one with a disability and activism for the wider disability community
It can be useful to reflect on this by referring to the advocacy work you do to resolve your own disability-related needs and conflicts as “advocacy” and working with others on broader disability policies and practices as “activism”.
Both advocacy and activism are important and have their place. But their goals, methods and tactics are often very different. And carefully selected activism has tremendous potential to expand the scope and positive effects of effective advocacy beyond yourself or your family.
- If you’re campaigning for accessibility at a restaurant that you’d like to dine in but can’t, watch out for local enforcement of all accessibility codes and what is nationally involved in enforcing and defending American law Disabilities happens.
- After going through some of your own advocacy battles with an employer, you may be well armed for some activities related to workplace discrimination laws and workplace placement practices for people with disabilities.
- When you’ve found some level of success in a number of difficult areas with disabilities, start looking for ways to support other disabled people and improve the conditions they will face in the future.
5. When you vote, keep disability issues in mind
Disabled people have voted in greater numbers in recent years. However, on average, disabled people still register at lower rates than non-disabled people. And it is still difficult to determine whether there is a coherent “disability vote” with identifiable, predictable points of view. This is partly because it is not clear how much disabled people take their disability experiences into account when voting.
You don’t have to make disability your top political priority to make a difference with your Baloot. You don’t have to leave aside all of your deepest opinions. You don’t have to blame your disability for your vote.
However, it makes sense to at least find out where candidates stand on disability issues that affect your life or the lives of people with disabilities who are important to you. That means insisting that candidates take the time to develop meaningful positions on disability issues.
- Online, in person, or both, take every opportunity to interview candidates who are voting on disability issues that matter most to you.
- Ask about national issues such as social security and disability rights laws, government issues such as home care funding, and local issues such as street, sidewalk, and accessibility to public buildings.
- Give candidates’ views on disability issues the same weight in your thinking as they do on issues relating to national defense, civil liberties, and domestic spending. Realize that issues that are important to you as a disabled voter may be important to all voters, whether they realize it or not.
These tips are meant to be simple, but not necessarily easy. At least some of them are available to just about anyone, regardless of experience or expertise.
One of the keys to getting started is making the decision not to center yourself from the start. Be ready to share the stage and be a voice in a choir. In disability activism, it can really be just as important and rewarding to work behind the scenes as it can be as a lead actor or soloist.
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