Here we are at the end of day 2 of the 2014 Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD) conference, and I’m feeling energized and exhilarated! Eight Poster Symposia were held bright and early this morning, during which research being done in and around the AUCD network was shared with conference attendees. Since (as you might have guessed from the rest of my blog) I’m a passionate self-advocate, I had the opportunity to facilitate a symposium called Self-advocacy: Future Directions of the Movement. Things started off a bit rough, because just as we were about to begin, a loud alarm sounded seemingly out of nowhere. It turned out to be an emergency exit alarm that had been set off accidentally, but I have to give credit to all of the attendees – we persevered right through it like the determined advocates we all are.
There are tons of important topics that we discussed surrounding self-advocacy, but I’d like to highlight two in particular: the role of self-determination in safety and in sexuality. A poster presentation given by Ronda Jenson and Cindy Beckmann from the University of Missouri-Kansas City featured their hard work on developing an app that allows disabled people to learn safety strategies and create a safety plan including emergency contacts. It’s brilliant, really, and since mistreatment of disabled people is still all too common, this app is extremely necessary and will be valuable. I also loved the presentation from Linda Sandman and Katie Arnold from the University of Illinois – Chicago, because they talked about one of my personal favorite topics – disability and sexuality. They emphasized the importance of sexual self-advocacy for the intellectual/developmental disability community, and in my opinion, this is something that absolutely cannot be understated!
— Emily Ladau (@emily_ladau) November 10, 2014
Later in the day, I attended a concurrent session on social media, led by Day Al-Mohamed of the Lead On Network and Maria Town of the fabulous blog CP Shoes. It happened to be the perfect lead in to what will forever be one of the most exciting experiences of my life – speaking at the opening plenary of the conference today! I was part of an awe-inspiring panel, Is Disability at a Tipping Point? Engaging the Public to Accelerate Progress, along with leaders including Leon Dash, a professor at the University of Illinois, Bob Boorstin, a former public policy director of Google and former Presidential speechwriter, James Ferg-Cadima of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and Shankar Vedantam, a science correspondent for NPR.
— Emily Ladau (@emily_ladau) November 10, 2014
I’m going to be real with all of you for moment: being the only female panelist as well as the youngest panelist was initially a bit intimidating, but I worked hard to hold my own and I had an incredible time doing it! The panel covered many hard-hitting topics affecting the disability community, focusing on engagement and advocacy as we move towards the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Everyone shared such powerful insights, and what resonated most with me was everyone’s willingness to be so open with their personal experiences.
I was appreciative that Mr. Ferg-Cadima shared stories about his learning disability, and spoke so eloquently about intersectionality between the disability and Latino communities. I also thought Mr. Boorstin made fantastic points regarding how the disability community can contribute economically, and how important it is to make that a central aspect of our engagement efforts. Mr. Vedantam rounded out the panel quite well, sharing his wealth of knowledge on subjects such as finding the balance between anecdotes and statistics in promoting our cause. Together as a panel, I feel we represented many of the diverse life experiences that I so strongly believe we must embrace into the folds of the disability community.
However, in no way did we represent everyone, and this is the point I made while speaking. Everyone’s experiences are valid, and those in positions of privilege and power cannot deny that the narratives of minorities are all too often discounted or excluded from major voices of advocacy. I’ve seen progress in changing this dynamic, but we must continue our work to do so. Furthermore, we cannot and should not discount the voices of up-and-coming generations of leaders and advocates. Those of us born after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act look to older generations as mentors and guides as we navigate the ever-changing and ever-more diverse paths of advocacy efforts. With the right supports, disability advocacy can reach well beyond the limits of just the disability community, and we can develop a greater sense of understanding from people who are non-disabled as well. Essentially, disability advocates fight for accessibility, but if we want accessibility, then we must make our advocacy accessible to the people who most need to receive the messages we’re sharing.
— AUCD (@AUCDNews) November 10, 2014
Speaking on today’s opening panel and meeting so many wonderful people afterwards at the poster reception was an honor and a privilege that I will carry with me as I move forward in my career. To everyone who is a part of the AUCD network, I am grateful for the work you do. The power to engage the world around us is in our hands, and I know we’re up for the challenge.