Alice Wong recently posted the below series of questions related to disability identity and activities for the #CripTheVote movement. This movement aims to encourage individuals with disabilities to engage in the political process. #CripTheVote achieved its initial goal related to increasing the public awareness of topics and concerns shared by the disability community and increased the number of individuals with disabilities who voted. With the 2016 election cycle over, the next phase strives to increase the public awareness for disability concerns and ensure our voices remain heard as the new administrations and congressional representatives establish and pursue their own agendas.
The below questions comes from the #CripTheVote blog. While the post requests one to answer via twitter, 140 characters is not enough to answer these questions.
Q1 Community check-in: How are you feeling right now given the recent events after the Inauguration? How are you coping?
The events following the inauguration excites and concerns me. The editing part stems from the number of individuals who raise their voices in protest and celebration. I am excited by those who took to the marches to demonstrate opposition to policies and who cheer for these same actions. I am excited to witness so many individuals who finally escaped their silent cages and freed their voices and opinions. What makes freedom free is the ability to fight for your beliefs. We are not going to always get along, but we do need to acknowledge the existence of multiple perspectives, where the wrong views are those who wish to silence or repress others.
This is what concerns me. We have numerous elected officials to private individuals minimizing or ignoring these very demonstrations of our right to speak, assemble, and publish news. We see more finger pointing and entrenchment of political beliefs. We are becoming more polarized than ever before. The cause originates from both parties, and I do not see anyone in the current administration who may forge a compromise.
I cannot support anyone still in a state of shock or disbelief regarding the elections’ results across the country. This thought lasted about 5 milliseconds after reading the results the following morning. After that moment, I started to investigate the actual positions and policies the elected officials would put forwards and started to investigate which coincide or run in opposition to my own beliefs.
Q2 What does activism mean to you? What kinds of activism are you involved with?
Activism is any action one takes to express their thoughts related to a topic. This may be informal conversations with your friends to strategic educational advocacy campaigns targeting those who possess the power to change situations. Activism may be letters, conversations, marches, Facebook posts, inaction, and any other method to convey your thoughts.
Personally, I have written numerous emails and attempted to call the offices of my elected officials related to local to national concerns. In each correspondence, my goal involved stating the subject, how it impacts my life, and potential solutions. Leaving any of these out enables the recipient to either fill in the blanks or discard the message.
Q3 Do you think of yourself as an activist or advocate? Why or why not?
I am a advocate. This is part of the professional identity I cultivated since accepting my blindness and establishing my disability identity. We all need to be our own advocate, since only you know what it is you believe.
Q4 How did your disability identity develop in relation to other identities you inhabit?
My disability identity evolved during my Masters in Social Work education. Until this point, I fought my blindness diminished my value as a military officer, husband, friend, and human. After all, I needed the assistance of others just to arrive at meetings on time or to read paper handouts. Social Work education instructed me on the importance of the right of self-determination, empowerment perspectives, and being your own advocate. This allowed me to see myself as a person with many more gifts and strengths to offer the world than what I lost from going blind.
The development of the disability identity transformed fly identities associated with the military, Veteran status, husband, father, friend, family member, and every other identity I possess. No longer did I feel my disabilities conflicted with other aspects of my self. The result is a congruent set of identities, where each borrows from another but none over powers the other. I am proud to call myself disabled, blind, Disabled Veteran, father, husband, advocate, son, guide dog handler, and Army retiree.
Q5 When did you become politicized? How are you shaped by your culture, beliefs, and communities?
The shift from political bystander to active participant required several years. Prior to my blindness, I barely knew the names of our senior elected officials and how legislation impacts my daily life. Following my injury, I started to listen to AM talk radio, talk politics with the strongly Christian conservatives military and GS office mates, and participate in online discussion forums. Naturally my political leans swayed conservative, but I was not able to acquire alternative view points from non-biased sources.
My political leanings steadily moved towards liberal views during my Social Work education and subsequent years. This stems largely from diversifying my friends and social contacts, promoting a richer understanding about the different layers to each issue. Then I learned how local to federal to international policies and agendas impacts my rights for an accessible and equal world, and embraced liberal stances safeguarding disability rights.
Q6 Not everyone is on Twitter or interested in political participation. How can we encourage disabled people to get involved?
Diffusion of an idea requires a multi level approach. Individuals with disabilities not currently engaged with the #CripTheVote movement requires their trusted friends and families to talk about the concepts of the movement. These trusted individuals start to cast light on the #CripTheVote movement, establishing credibility. Next an individual will need to consume content from the movement, solidifying the movement to the individual. Finally, the individual must experience the movement, affixing an emotional reaction to the movement.
Q7 What are some barriers that get in the way of more disabled people from participating in any form of activism?
Knowledge. Knowledge about the issues. Knowledge about how policies impacts the individual. Knowledge about ones role in the process. Knowledge about who to contact for more information. Knowledge about how to interact with elected officials and community leaders. Knowledge that they have the freedom to engage in activism. Knowledge different activism venues and methods are accessible. Knowledge that one will not lose benefits, rights, or supports by becoming active. Finally, knowledge that their voices are important and equal to all other voices.
Q8 There’s the phrase ‘the personal is political.’ If that resonates with you, what issues are hitting you hardest right now?
The nomination for the Department of Justice. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires the Department of Justice’s interpretation for teeth. Should the Department of Justice loosen or eliminate consequences for ignoring the Americans with Disabilities Act, I will lose the only legislation permitting my guide dog in public establishments. I will lose trust in my elected officials and the department of Justice to support my rights as a disabled person. I fear accessibility will become voluntary, and digital interfaces will not have to comply to any web accessibility initiative guidelines.
Q9 As you look forward to the rest of this year, what do you need to sustain your activism? What will help?
Hope and trust. Hope the political pandering from both sides will subside and pragmatic evidence-based solutions will arise. Hope that activism will remain one of our freedoms, and the current administration and elected officials will not silence our voices through legislative actions. Trust in my fellow disabled friends and supporters will stand by my side even if we are persecuted for advocating for our rights. Trust in my own voice to remain consistent and responsive throughout the years.Hope