Introduction to #EqualAccess / #DisabilityExperience Series
The image above is a photo with six disabled people of color smile and pose in front of a concrete wall. Five people stand in the back, with the Black woman in the center holding up a chalkboard sign reading “disabled and here.” A South Asian person in a wheelchair sits in front.
by Kendra Muller-Taylor, #EqualAccess / #DisabilityExperience series coordinator
Disability is critically relevant in all aspects of society. The purpose of Exponent II is to provide a forum for Mormon women to share their life experiences in an atmosphere of trust and acceptance. In that spirit, we offer the stories of women who identify as disabled to highlight their lives and ways that we, as a community, can be more inclusive and bring about #DisabilityEquality. Understanding disability as an asset to society creates inclusive communities where no one is left behind. The disability community’s power lies in diversity and inclusion as it seeks to create dialogue and overcome stigmatized culture.
We hope that this series will be a part of an ongoing conversation at The Exponent, and we have carefully chosen hashtags to make it easier to access the words of our writers. These hashtags will be useful in building the Kingdom of God in the Church and providing #EqualAccess insights to Church leaders, teachers, ministering sisters or brothers, or anyone searching for ways to ensure they are being inclusive.
Equality is a crucial issue to the disability community. It is vital that we understand the meaning of the word “equality” and how equal access creates inclusive spaces for all individuals in a community. The Exponent has decided to use the hashtag #EqualAccess because it speaks to the diversity of the disability community. The disabled community is extremely fluid because any abled-bodied person can become disabled at anytime. Likewise, disabilities fluctuate and are vastly varied. Many disabilities are hidden or only manifest themselves at certain points of life. Because of this fact, the disability community is a vibrant home full of intersectionality. Disability cuts across all intersectionalities and thus #EqualAcess is for everyone. At the core of disability rights is the knowledge that equal access is for all minority groups including disability, age, socioeconomic status, sexual identity, class, education, beliefs, race, ethnicity, national origin, sex, gender expression, gender identity, or any other group.
The motto of the disability rights community is “Nihil de nobis, sine nobis,” Latin for “Nothing About Us Without Us.” The utmost goal of the disability rights movement is to encourage society to listen to disabled individuals. We chose #DisabilityExperience to display our goal for providing a platform for disabled voices. True to Exponent II’s mission, we seek to learn from the first-hand experiences of disabled women.
Disability as a word and as an idea are heavily stigmatized in our current society. Although, there is some discussion in the disabled community about using the word “disability,” for this series and because the majority of the disability community embraces this word, The Exponent blog and the writers for this series have chosen to use disability as an identifying word and not a label with negative connotation.
The large majority of the disabled community embraces the word “disabled.” Many well-intentioned abled-bodied individuals are uncomfortable with embracing the word “disabled” and may tell disabled individuals not to describe themselves as such. If you feel uncomfortable speaking about disability, please instead take a moment to recalibrate by reading blog posts of members of the disability community, and getting to know individuals near you. To help as you read, there are two language identifiers most commonly used. One is person-first language, (i.e. a person with a disability)] and the other is identity-first language, (i.e. disabled person). These are both accurate. Disabled as a word is only negative and burdensome because society has declared that any human with a disability is “less than.” The disabled community and allies believe all humanity is equal, thus “disability” is simply one part of someone’s complex identity. If you wonder whether to use identity vs. person it is helpful to simply get to know the person and ask. (Other euphemisms tend to be inappropriate including ‘differently abled’, ‘handicappable’ etc.)
Our series begins today as we present our writers’ experiences surrounding disability. Blog posts include accessibility, mental health, inspiration porn, and new perspectives on disability. Disabled voices rarely get a chance to speak for themselves, but this blog series seeks to eliminate the stigma that disabled people are less than, and need a representative to speak on their behalf. This blog series is intended to break stereotypes by gathering the voices of disabled individuals. If you would like to add to this series, consider submitting a piece up to 1000 words to ExponentBlog@gmail.com
Bio: Kendra is a current law student studying international disability rights at the University of San Diego. While in her undergraduate program, she founded The Equal Access and Disability Rights Commission to provide disabled students with equal access to education and to enhance perspectives of diversity and inclusion. The Commission was created by disabled undergraduates for disabled students and has gathered statements, analyzed findings, and provided specific recommendations to improve equal access. The Commission aims to create dialogue by enacting public changes that empower disabled individuals and also seeks to accurately represent disabled students as positive contributors in the academic community. Find more at equalaccesscommission.org.