Embedding Independence – A Conversation with Sachiko Wrong and Alice Wong on Building a World Accessible to People with Disabilities

Yes, another introduction caused by the pandemic. As Covid continues to be a reality-altering phenomenon, exposing the circumstances and shortcomings of our society on a macroscopic scale, it appears often in journalism in recent times.

Much of what does not work in our social structures has come to light over the past two years. In breaking away from “normalcy”, the pressure for change reached a critical juncture, where the decision to remain silent was no longer an option. Structures of systemic oppression, for reasons of race, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, access to health care, etc., have been highlighted. Those who did not knowingly live in these acute circumstances suddenly had the wool of our eyes.

While I had some insight into these problems before the pandemic, their magnitude and my own inadvertent involvement was not fully clear until 2020. I remember my seventh grade social studies class, where I learned racism as if it existed in the past, heroically solved by Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. Throughout 2020 and up to the present day, I have systematically educated myself on the very contemporary issues our country is facing. confronted and perpetuates, but on one problem, I admit that I have remained largely ignorant – the issue of ableism.

Depending on a person’s level of exposure to people with disabilities, the concept of ableism itself may not be familiar. Because our systems are built assuming able-bodied bodies, it is easy to forget that there are those who cannot access doors, stairs, elevators, cinemas, etc. in the same way as able-bodied people, especially because we see them less often in places not equipped to welcome their presence. It is a grim example of out of sight, out of mind, specifically excluding a group of humans from comfortably engaging, or engaging at all, in the larger community activities of society. While I respect disabled parking spaces and enjoy seeing a wheelchair ramp added to a building, as a traditionally able-bodied person I have found myself generally guilty of willingly, if not unintentionally, participating in an exclusively built society. My lack of consideration for the depth and dimension of the needs and experience of people with disabilities became evident.

I researched ableism recently and found an article by Leah Smith, writer, communications professional, and disability activist, on the Center for Disability Rights website. Smith describes ableism as follows: “… a set of beliefs or practices that demean and discriminate against people with physical, intellectual or psychiatric disabilities and are often based on the assumption that people with disabilities need to be ‘fixed’ in some form or form. another one. “

This highlights a problematic approach our society is currently taking when considering bodies and beings with different abilities – which they must change to fit into a valid structure, rather than the expanding structure itself. to adapt to their lifestyle. It is too easy to understand how a person with a disability moves around the world feeling the walls of society closing in on them due to the difference in functionality and the lack of inclusion of people with disabilities who make decisions that have an impact. on the community structure. Navigating differences has never been man’s strong suit, and physical and intellectual differences have long been treated as diseases to be cured, rather than seen as valid and respectable states of being.

Smith’s article heightened my awareness of how little I knew about the experience and perspective of people with disabilities, who not only lack representation as a whole, but are an umbrella term for a myriad of different experiences. all of which require specific accommodations and compassion. It is too easy for the able-bodied in our current social models to forget the circumstances and needs of those who are different from us. Our non-inclusive model supports, if not actively encourages, this “forgetfulness”. This reality has never been lost for people with disabilities.

The able-bodied need an education and the community structure needs to be reformed. I am happy to report that a phenomenal opportunity to address both issues presents itself this weekend.

Recognizing the very real need, the Marin County Equity Office, in partnership with Book Passage; Institute of Leadership Studies, Dominican University of California; and the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at the Dominican University of California, established Community at the Table: Leading with Anti-Racism series, inviting the people of Marin County to engage in reflection, dialogue and learning about how to support and establish racial equality. Outstanding speakers such as John A. Powell and Dr Peggy McIntosh spoke at these events, helping the community to reconsider and restructure towards an equitable goal.

the Community at the table the series continues on Friday, December 17, with Yomi Sachiko Wrong and Alice Wong, two activists with disabilities and women of color leading the discussion and representing the perspective of people with disabilities.

Yomi Sachiko Wrong is an Oakland-based disability rights leader and self-proclaimed disability justice dreamer who works at the intersection of disability, race and access to health. She is also a writer, facilitator and trainer committed to helping movements and organizations disrupt ableism.

Alice Wong is a San Francisco-based disabled activist, media designer and consultant. She is the founder and director of the Disability Visibility Project, an online community dedicated to creating, sharing and amplifying disability media and culture.

Wrong and Wong will be joined by two community disability rights leaders from Marin – Eli Gelardin, Marin Center for Independent Living, and Abby Yim, Integrated Community Services – to educate the community.

“As our county continues to evolve and grow in our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion,” said Yim, “it brings me great joy to have the opportunity to learn from the expertise and perspective of Alice Wong and Yomi Sachiko Wrong, who are critical thinkers in asking questions about systemic access for all. It is urgent that we focus on these issues as our county has a growing number of people with disabilities and the elderly, who deserve to thrive in our community.

This is an opportunity to ask the provocative and difficult questions about how we can use the current disruption as fodder to build a more just, equitable and accessible world, and to see out from an informed perspective. Through listening, research and dedication to change, we can restructure our systems towards informed inclusion.

The “Community at the table” forum takes place on Friday December 17th at 5pm online. Register for the webinar by visiting equity.marincounty.org.

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