Image: "Community Erasure" by Derek Newman-Stille
Throughout the duration of this course, I have discovered very much about what it means to become an activist and the significant role that activism plays in my life. As a young woman who has been living with epilepsy all her life, I have always had a general understanding of how important activism is to combatting ableism. My disability has helped me understand and become aware of the repercussions and negative impacts that ableist thought has on those within the disabled community. However, I lack any understanding of the experience that individuals with visible disabilities live through and how the visibility of their disability alters how others view them as people. I initially began my activism to understand more about how I, as a person with an invisible disability, can use my experience, knowledge, and relationship with those both inside and outside the disabled community to assist in abolishing ableist thought and treatment.
It is through my activism against ableist social structures that I discovered what activism truly meant to me. Throughout my experience, activism means having the freedom and bravery to fight the existing systems of power and participate in eradicating the current unjust and inequitable structures that we have built society upon. Activism is not just represented through protestors and angry signs, but also through simple acts like reposting an awareness campaign post, writing a letter to politicians, creating art that brings light to injustice or even correcting a friend when they say something ableist, misogynistic, or racist. Activism is about using your voice to help those who are not being heard, and it is throughout the many lectures and readings we had in this course, I was able to understand this.
The impact that activism has was first made clear to me in May Chazans text Amplifying Activism. When she introduces the concept of “quieter roles,” these “quieter roles” were exemplified through the two activists Jo AnnRobinson and Claudette Colvin. The two activists did most of their work behind the scenes and were not widely known or recognized for their contributions in the fight for racial equality, although they both played crucial roles as activists. Without the help from both Robinson and Colvin, it is unlikely that the struggle for racial equality would have had as powerful of an effect as it resulted in. Colvin, like Rosa Parks, refused to move from her seat on the bus; however, due to her social position as a fifteen-year-old pregnant Black girl, Colvin is not well recognized. Robinson had spent the night of Rosa Park’s arrest mimeographing to raise awareness and encourage other activists to fight. Through the “quieter roles,” I realized how the seemingly small contributions could have an incredibly impactful result. It is because of this I realized I could have an impact on the ableist thought in my community, no matter how small it appears.
I have considered myself an activist since the day I learned of Robinson and Colvin. I do as much as I can for the disabled community and always remember the impact that Robinson and Colvin had on the world when I do not believe I have done enough. Activism against ableism has given me something to fight for and has provided me with the confidence to make a change in the world. I have been successful enough in my activism to make small changes in my place of work through my constant complaints of the inaccessibility of our restaurant. We had broken accessibility buttons, unfriendly precautions when addressing customers in wheelchairs, and even improper training for helping those with disabilities in the workplace like myself. I was able to force my management to fix these outstanding problems. Through this, I have helped empower others with disabilities by encouraging independence in the workplace and assisting those with visible disabilities to preserve their dignity by not having them struggle with doors or be spoken down to by staff.
Overall, activism has changed my life not only as a woman with a disability but also as an activist. I feel strong for the first time in my life, and I am inspired by the change I can make to help others. I intend to go to my first protest soon (with a mask, of course), and I cannot wait to inspire change throughout my and other’s communities.