Words I Wheel By

November 12, 2014
by Emily Ladau
1 Comment

Empowering Disability Advocates at the Association of University Centers on Disabilities Conference, Days 3 and 4

After the excitement of speaking on the opening plenary during day 2 of the Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD) conference, I was looking forward to the continued energy of the following day, and as usual, AUCD didn’t disappoint! The day began with a fantastic plenary on The Future of Education, Employment, and Community Living for People with Disabilities. Talk about tackling the critical topics! The panel, moderated by Judy Woodruff, a co-anchor of PBS NewsHour, was spot on, and included three women doing incredible work for the disability community: Melody Musgrove, the Director of the Office of Special Education Programs in the Department of Education, Portia Wu, the Assistant Secretary of Labor for the Employment and Training Administration in the Department of Labor, and Kathy Greenlee, the Assistant Secretary for Aging and Administrator of the Administration for Community Living. While I’d love to just post the transcript because I believe it would speak for itself as to how poignant the panel was, I have carried away a few main points. Musgrove asserted that inclusion is everyone’s responsibility in school systems. Moreover, the panelists all addressed how crucial it is to realistically prepare people with disabilities for the workforce. Amen to that!

Following the plenary, I chose to attend a concurrent session on the use of social media (have I mentioned how much I love social media?!) to promote ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, led by Isabel Hodge, a parent advocate, and Andrea Shettle, and Patricia Morrissey of the United States International Council on Disabilities. When I was interning for AUCD, I worked on this effort along with the policy team, and it was by far one of the highlights of my summer. After this session, I got to spend time with the AUCD Special Interest Group on disability and sexual health (again, have I mentioned how much I love this topic? I know, you’re sensing a theme here!) during which we focused on the importance of ending the taboo.

Now, full disclosure: once this session ended, I spent some time getting ready for the AUCD Awards Celebration and Networking event. What can I say? I love an excuse to get dressed up. And let me tell you, this was an event worth getting fancy for, because the award recipients were all incredible. Hearing about their amazing work renewed my energy to advocate, although really, that can be said about everything I’ve experienced throughout this conference!

And finally, the conference has come to a close with a bang. I had the privilege this morning of being in the same room as Taryn Mackenzie Williams, the current White House Public Engagement Advisor, and the Honorable Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, who are both immensely influential and admirable champions for the disability rights movement. How empowering it was to listen to discussion of the progress we’ve made within the disability community. But, as Senator Harkin so aptly stated: “We’ve come a long way, but we can’t back down on our commitment to enlarging the civil rights of people with disabilities.” It is this sentiment I’d like to leave you with as you pack your bags, board your planes or trains, and return home. The power is in our hands to create positive change, and I can’t wait to see just how far we’ve come when old friends and new meet again next year in Washington, D.C.

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November 9, 2014
by Emily Ladau
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Embracing Diversity at the Association of University Centers on Disabilities Conference, Day 1

For the next few days, Words I Wheel By will be the home base for blogs about the amazing conference I’m attending, hosted by the Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD) – AUCD Unleashed: The Power of Engagement. If you’re not at the conference but have stumbled upon my blog, or if you’re already a regular reader, I invite you to stick around and read on. The AUCD conference has lots of wisdom to offer!

As some of you know, I had the privilege of being an intern for AUCD during the summer of 2013, thanks to an amazing program through the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD). (Fun fact: Andy Imparato, the current AUCD Executive Director, actually started the internship program during his time at AAPD – so I’m grateful to him for creating opportunities for the disability community.) Anyway, I loved my time at AUCD so much that here I am, back for my second year of the conference! (You can read about my previous conference experience here: Finding a True Sense of Community Within a Community.)

Today’s been such a great day for networking, seeing old friends, and making new ones. For those of you who are at the conference, I’d love to hear more about your experiences with the pre-conference workshops. Which one did you attend? What were some of the highlights? (Bonus points if you tweet about it using #AUCD2014!)

There were six pre-conference workshops, and I went to Diversity Unleashed: the Power of Engaging Everyone! What an incredible workshop it was, complete with a power-packed panel discussion and a great team activity. Day Al-Mohamed, JD, who is president of the Lead On Network, happens to be one of mentors, kicked of the discussion with emphasis on the importance of intersectionality. She explained that too often, minority groups hold the attitude that “It’s not my issue” when it comes to supporting causes that affect other groups. What we must realize is the ways in which diverse groups are all interconnected. Chad Gobert, MA, echoed this sentiment, discussing the deeply problematic bias in healthcare towards the gay community. He has worked to create The Culture of Care, a course creating a welcoming and inclusive environment for caring, working, and learning at Massachusetts General Hospital. He reminded all the attendees of the importance of “focusing on where our similarities begin as opposed to where they’re separate.”

Of course, we can’t forget the importance of inclusion in spiritual environments. Did you know the Americans with Disabilities Act does not require houses of worship to be accessible? Even so, as panelist Dr. Harold Kleinert noted, the AUCD network can play an integral role in engaging faith communities. Tranesha A. Christie and Dr. Eduardo Ortiz contributed similarly to the panel, addressing their work on embracing the diversity within the disability experience, and shared what we can do to maximize support for diverse communities, such as historically black colleges and universities.

After this fantastic panel, I had the chance to learn from other attendees sitting at my table. Here’s what I most want everyone to consider: The AUCD network has a responsibility to represent multiculturalism and diversity without veering into the realm of tokenism. We can welcome staff from diverse backgrounds into our programs without hiring people as tokens. Our network has the strength to continue our work in fostering and engaging inclusive atmospheres, and I know that throughout this conference, we’ll be able to gain and share knowledge on the best practices to accomplish that.

I’m so excited for what the first day of the main conference holds! Tomorrow I’ll be facilitating a panel on self-advocacy, and I’ll be speaking at the opening plenary. It’s really humbling to consider that I’ve gone from summer intern to conference speaker. I can’t wait to engage with more conference attendees and learn from lots of you! Check back here tomorrow for my next post on the conference, and in the meantime, be sure to share this post, Tweet using the hashtag #AUCD2014, and leave comments chatting about all of your conference experiences. I’m looking forward to hearing from you. And again, if you’re not at the conference, you’re still more than welcome to check out what’s going on here and on social media. There’s lots of powerful disability advocacy happening, and anyone can be part of it!

Are you tweeting? Get engaged and let’s get connected! You can find me @emily_ladau, and follow along with everyone else tweeting with #AUCD2014!

Click to Tweet: I’m at #AUCD2014 embracing diversity & unleashing the power of engagement! Catch up on day 1 here –> http://ctt.ec/2C2ca+

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November 3, 2014
by Emily Ladau
1 Comment

October 2014 Disability News and Blog Post Round-Up

So many awesome disability-related reads, so little time, right? To help you out, here’s October’s round-up. And guess what?! This is my second October round-up, because I started doing these last October. Time flies! (Click here to check out my first ever Disability News and Blog Post Round-up.) With this time of year being so busy, I hope it saves a little time for anyone looking to stay updated without searching all around the web. As always, I highly suggest pinning or bookmarking the round-up so you can come back to it whenever you have a few spare moments. Let me know what interested you the most, and if you think I missed anything. And most importantly, have a happy November!

October Disability News and Blog Post Round-up - Words I Wheel By

Disability News

Disability Blog Posts

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October 13, 2014
by Emily Ladau

The Politics of Disability Representation in the Wendy Davis Wheelchair Ad

The Politics of Disability Representation in the Wendy David "Wheelchair Ad"

In case you haven’t noticed the dramatic media storm over the past few days, Texan senator and gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis’s most recent advertisement against her competitor, Attorney General Greg Abbott, has enraged quite a lot of people. Since I’m someone who always looks at disability in the media through a careful critical lens, a few people have assumed I’d be equally disgusted with Davis’s supposed affront to Abbott. To be honest, though, I firmly believe people are overreacting. Much of society harbors some concerning double standards that are clearly evident in the responses to Davis’s ad.

First, consider the fact that Abbott mentions his disability in order to use it as a selling point in one of his own campaign ads. Set to uplifting background music, Abbott pushes himself up the inclines of a parking garage, narrating the story of how he worked to rebuild his strength after his accident. These rehabilitation efforts are framed as the perfect metaphor for Abbott’s leadership style if elected as the governor of Texas. Viewers are left with a message intended to inspire confidence in Abbott: “To get to the top we must push ourselves to do ‘just one more.'” So, if he can push his wheelchair to the top of a parking garage even in the face of exhaustion, then this must also mean he can push Texas to the top against all odds. There’s no real substance in the ad, no mention of Abbott’s accomplishments or policies. It’s just heartwarming fluff. The ad directly takes advantage of Abbott’s disability.

(See transcript below.)

Conversely, Davis’s ad about Abbott is set to ominous background music and tells of how Abbott fought to help himself after his accident, but has not helped others who have been in similarly difficult situations. This ad is far from the offensive blow people have made it out to be. Abbott already brought his accident and his disability into the conversation by creating the parking garage ad, so mention of his disability is fair game. This is politics, after all, and it’s a tough playground out there.

(See transcript below.)

Yes, Davis’s ad uses Abbott’s disability, but only as a springboard for the main point, which is to highlight what her campaign team believes to be Abbott’s wrongdoings and character flaws. Though there are major differences in the tone and intent of the ads, both use the same rhetorical techniques – exploitation of disability and tragedy to hit a nerve and convince people that Abbott is a certain type of person.

If the public is okay with Abbott creating a campaign ad centered on his disability, then it’s hypocritical to be angry at Davis for mentioning it. Really, the crux of the issue is that too many people believe disability is something that must be tip-toed around; how dare someone say something negative about a disabled person? Mother Jones writer Ben Dreyfuss exemplifies this mentality perfectly in his critique: “It’s offensive and nasty and it shouldn’t exist. She’s basically calling Abbott a cripple.” This response is outrageous and way off-base. Nowhere in the ad is it even implied, let alone said, that Abbott is nothing more than a cripple. Dreyfuss and so many other angry critics are essentially ascribing their own stereotypes to the ad, a belief that disability makes a person untouchable. This, I believe, is the actual nerve that the ad hit for so many people.

Ultimately, Davis’s ad is undeniably propagandistic and hard-hitting, but so are many of the hypocritical responses that stem from the fact that the ad is in stark contrast to the way people are used to hearing about disability. If disability is portrayed in a way that makes non-disabled people feel warm and fuzzy – as it is in Abbott’s parking garage ad – then most people have no problem with it. (For a prime example of this, look no further than my critique of the Guinness wheelchair basketball advertisement and the comments calling me bitter.) But in the case of Davis’s ad, it seems the campaign team did indeed cross a line, but not the line of what is appropriate, as they are so accused. Rather, they’ve crossed the line of the public’s comfort zone surrounding disability.



Abbott Video – “Garage”

Narrator: “After my accident, I had to rebuild my strength. I would roll up an eight-story parking garage, spending hours going up the ramps. With each floor, it got harder and harder, but I wouldn’t quit. ‘Just one more,’ I’d tell myself. Just one more. I see life that way and it’s how I’ll govern Texas. To get to the top, we must push ourselves to do ‘just one more.'”

Davis Video – “Justice”

Narrator: “A tree fell on Greg Abbott. He sued and got millions. Since then, he’s spent his career working against other victims. Abbott argued a woman whose leg was amputated was not disabled because she had an artificial limb. He ruled against a rape victim who sued a corporation for failing to do a background check on a sexual predator. He sided with a hospital that failed to stop a dangerous surgeon who paralyzed patients. Greg Abbott – he’s not for you.”


Photo credit: KendallKaos / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

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