Representation is Key to Inclusion

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve said or heard some variation of the words, “representation is key to inclusion,” in impassioned conversations about disability rights and equality, I would be so rich that I can almost guarantee I wouldn’t qualify for any medical or quality-of-life services (a little disability life humor, if you will).

But, I’m not rolling deep in money, and we, the disabled people of the world (about 1/6 of the planet’s population, by the way), are still emphatically advocating and smartly arguing, for the sake of, or on behalf of, normalizing the presence of disabled bodies in spaces that are routinely reserved for able bodies.

All About Diversity
First, we must dismantle all systematic and societal roadblocks to freedoms of choice and decision-making, equal opportunities and placements in the workforce, and most importantly, connecting to people and creating relationships, professionally and personally.

Asking people to be all about diversity — that means not just joining in conversation or giving a head nod when confronted with questions or expectations to diversify, but to actively engage with people who express themselves differently and experience the world in a way that is not the same as another — is an imposing feat to reach. But it’s not an impossible one to conquer.

A cultural change — a shift to not only accepting the diversity of humanity, but embracing differences as what is the same in all of us — takes culture shock, first. The only way to dislodge from a long-held stance and to move forward into a new attitude is to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

The key to understanding people — in this case, disability life — is freely welcoming Immersive experiences and deliberately connecting and communing with neighbors who may look, think, or feel distinctly dissimilar from us.

world inclusion

The problem is, it is the Digital Age: an obvious over-saturation of digital content that enables our fast-paced lives; we can consume information more quickly than we can form our own opinions, or sit down to hear the thoughts of our peers. How do we generate discussion when we seem to have forgotten how to interact with each other?

Our teacher, The Media
Tech Neck, the nagging neck and shoulder pain that sets in after hours of burying our noes in our phones, is a real epidemic — but at least chiropractors are seeing an impressive uptick in billable hours. The more concerning issue, however, is that without taking a moment to look up and uncross our eyes, it’s difficult to see people, talk to others, and learn undiscovered truths about the human experience.

One truth is that media, in all its forms — social, digital, political, and commercial — is the most influential teacher of cultural ideas, customs, and behaviors. That means, when choosing perspectives on diversity, disabilities, and inclusion, society tends to lead or follow in the direction of the carefully curated narrative spun out by the media.

Another truth is simple: media is the largest, most common form of mass communication, and its space for impact is only growing wider.

According to the 2018 Nielsen Total Audience Report, across multicultural communities, the average adult spends more than 11 hours — that’s close to half a day — listening to, watching, reading, or plugging into media.

It’s safe to say that the world’s broadcasting, publishing, and internet companies — the creators and keepers of information — have inherit, and instant influence over thoughts, feelings, and opinions. Immediate power brings a necessary responsibility to produce content that is candid and authentic, not curated and authoritative.

If we are going to have our noses buried in our phones, or our eyes glued to screens, we can at least be confronted with as-accurate-as-possible representations or reflections of the community surrounding us.

The (right) representation matters
No doubt, modern media is one of the most influential and controversial arts. Today’s print, digital, and audio content is thought-stirring — and opinionated. In other words, every message we consume is one belief, not total truth.

That means, all consumable media is open to interpretation; more than one school of thought means that the world needs more than one representative of unique human experiences.

The World Bank Group’s Disability Inclusion Overview highlights that one billion people, or 15% of the world’s population, experience some form of disability. One-fifth of the estimated global total, or between 110 million and 190 million people, experience significant disabilities.

It’s a good guess that these numbers will continue to inflate, making men, women, and children with disabilities one of the world’s largest population minorities — and still, disability life experiences are the least seen or shared among the rest of humanity.

That’s why disability representation matters. If people with disabilities are not adequately present in our fellow human’s daily dose of media, then we are not appropriately seen or understood. When a person is not seen, they cannot be invited — into the offices, the homes, the events, the critical conversations and relationships — and lack of invite means less perspectives and more silenced people.

representation

The good news is, the media is trying to make space for people with disabilities to be seen and heard more loudly than ever before. In the fashion industry, Tommy Hilfiger’s line for example, adaptive clothing — clothes with a more flattering fit on bodies that are differently proportioned, and are easier to put on — is a recognized rebranding on the runway and in stores. In music and entertainment, actresses and actors with physical disabilities are receiving big-time awards for their talents, and prime time television is featuring more storytelling about mental health, disabilities, and chronic illness.

All good, right? Absolutely. It’s not a matter of when disability will be seen in the media, but there is still a question of how disability life is portrayed to the masses.

From where I sit, it seems showcasing disabilities on television and film, or in fashion and entertainment is still less about equal representation and more about necessary justification. That means, media continues to tell the narratives that says, “despite being obviously different, people with disabilities are doing all they can to show up and stay in this small space they had to make for themselves. How inspirational.”

In 2019, large-market companies, ones with a huge power to influence, are still selling disabilities as uncommon inspiration.

Earlier this year, Nike aired a commercial featuring a marathon runner with cerebral palsy. Athlete Justin Gallegos is seen stretching, warming up for a freeing run around a springy rubber track. He’s dressed head-to-toe in his runner’s uniform, complete with a pair of well-worn Nike running shoes. Justin is heard explaining why he loves running, telling the camera that running started as a hobby and then morphed into a way to celebrate his body. After that, video captures Justin exploding from the starting position, and sprinting around the track.

“It doesn’t matter that he has CP…,” his coach says near the end of the commercial. “he is saying, if I can do it, anyone else can, too.”

The intention for representation is there, but still, this Nike commercial is perpetuating the narrative that disability is a marker to gauge another’s success or quality of life against, or that being disabled is an identity used to inspire other people to push themselves harder or further towards a goal.

This Nike commercial missed the mark; this message is not the right kind of representation of disability life. People with disabilities are not props for propaganda; we are not a strategy to diversify an advertising portfolio.

Then, for a Super Bowl 2019 ad spot, Microsoft debuted a commercial featuring a young boy playing video games with his friends. The boy had a few physical differences, and was excited to be using Microsoft’s new adapted game controller.

In this instance, the selling point is the adapted controller, so it made good sense to feature a young boy with a disability using the product. However, there is still a little bit of a rub in the way that disability is used in this commercial. The story arc ends with a young boy finally being able to participate fully in his friendships because he has an adapted video game controller. The moral of the story here is that because of his disability this boy was once excluded and now he is welcomed into the fold. The narrative has is a muted message of hope where there was once pity. Disability is not fodder for pity, or for inspiration.

Our stories are not for sale, products are for sale. We want to be represented, yes, but in a simple, more real way.

Advertising agencies need to realize that the best kind of advertisements happen when disabilities do not steal away from the intent of the advertising, which is to sell the product, not a human. We are people, with many layers. Disability may permeate each layer of a unique life experience, but disabilities are never always at the center of our lives’ conversations — they shouldn’t be at the center of storylines and selling-pitches either.

Entrepreneurship Growing in Popularity Among People with Disabilities

Here we are in October: Pumpkin Spice Awareness Month, right? That’s true, but it’s also Disability Awareness Month. Why is this monthly observance even more important than sweater weather and pumpkin-flavored everything?

Did you know that people with disabilities around the world are the largest minority and yet the least talked about groups of people? Take cerebral palsy for example: worldwide, 17 million men, women, and children live with this, the most commonly diagnosed group of congenital disorders, yet many people don’t know much about the condition.

People with disabilities are also one of the largest groups of people who struggle with unemployment. Did you know? In 2018, the employmentpopulation ratio—the proportion of the population that is employed— was 19.1 percent among those with a disability, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. In contrast, the employmentpopulation ratio for those without a disability was 65.9 percent.

Those numbers callout an obvious disparity that needs to be remedied. How do we come together to create societal changes that welcomes disability in the workplaces? Firstly, Corporate America’s all-business brain needs to shift to an all-embracing thought process; a mindset that celebrates disability — and all differences pertaining to lifestyle — as assets and equalizers rather than limitations or restrictions to opportunities, successes, and health — now isn’t that the kind of attitude and belief we should all try to adopt?

People with disabilities are incredibly creative, proficient, and accomplished men and women; ignoring that fact based on physical or emotional prowess becomes the bigger issue than any workplace accommodation or adaptations will ever be.

A 30-something year-old woman with a cerebral palsy, I know a thing or two about competing to keep my spot in the workforce. I am not alone – between the discrimination, unintentional or otherwise, and the lack of proper accommodations in the workplace, many people with disabilities turn to entrepreneurship in order to create some space and make some marks on the community.

I have decided to taking creative control of my professional prowess. Alongside my business partner, Erin Kay, we have come together to create Claiming Disability Inc.

Claiming Disability Inc is more than a clever business name, it is a movement, a battle cry to strong and determined men and women who know that ‘disabled’ is not a label informing limitations, but a badge of honor to be celebrated with pride.

Claiming Disability Inc provides education, emotional support, and mentorship that encourages confidence and increases professional and personal successes in the lives of men and women with physical, mental, and emotional disabilities.

Under the enthusiastic leadership of Kay and Miller, Claiming Disability Inc is a multi-media brand producing educational and empowering media content and news-worthy-campaigns that encourages confidence and increases professional and personal successes in the lives of men and women with physical, mental, and emotional disabilities.

Our platforms include podcasts, blogs, photo shoots, literature, and clothing and accessories. Claiming Disability Inc will also provide keynote speakers for high schools, colleges, universities, professional conferences, personal and development events. Claiming Disability Inc speaking engagements will also help to raise awareness of inclusivity and equality for people with disabilities.

Do you know one of the coolest things about creating this organization and this space for people with disabilities?

If you guessed that it’s being able to build a supportive and understanding community of men and women living with or around disabilities, and coming together to find camaraderie in the commonalities — then you know why this work is so important.

At Claiming Disability Inc, we are encouraging people to proudly claim their disabilities and share their stories. Why? Because when we share, we connect, and when we connect, we learn we aren’t alone. When we know we aren’t alone in our experiences and our feelings, it becomes easier to live more authentically and speak more freely about who we are.

 

Check us out!

Claiming Disability Inc website: https://www.claimingdisabilityinc.com/

Mollie’s Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/wheeliegoodwriter/?hl=en

Mollie’s Personal Blog: https://wheeliegoodwriter.com/

Erin’s Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/disabilitiesarebeautiful/?hl=en

Claiming Disability Inc Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/claiming_disability_inc/?hl=en

us1

 

17 Million People

17 million. That’s the number of men, women, and children living with Cerebral Palsy, the most commonly diagnosed group of congenital disorders. Yet, not many people know very much about the diagnosis.

So, what is Cerebral palsy? This medical diagnosis, usually causing a degree of disability, is a group of disorders that affect movement and muscle tone or posture. It’s caused by damage that occurs to the immature brain as it develops, most often before birth. Signs and symptoms appear during infancy or preschool years.

What does this matter to you? Unless you have cerebral palsy or love somebody who does, probably not much. But that’s exactly why World Cerebral Palsy day matters so much.

People with disabilities need more recognition for their unique attributes and contributions to the world. You see, too often, people with disabilities are known for their differences or for the abilities they lack, as defined by society.

We — disabled people — are so much more than a label from a diagnosis. We are, simply, people. But we are people who dealt more challenging and complicated cards. Those cards, even if they give us more struggles, they give us even more strength. And creativity. And special skills to adapt and solve problems with ingenuity and determination. We have a special sense of humor and a deep compassion for underserved or misunderstood people.

That’s what World CP Day and Disability Awareness Month is all about: recognizing the millions of people who rise up from challenging experiences each day to join the rest of the world.

More importantly, this day and this month stands as a reminder: disability is just a word to describe the way a person might experience life. But the word disability does not determine a person’s value and impact in this life.

Be Like Barbie

My eyes are bad, and I’m pretty sure I’m seeing double. 👀 👀

A big step in disability inclusion is disability representation in media and material things.

Way to go, Barbie , for making this beautiful girl and helping her roll onto store shelves nationwide (worldwide, maybe? A girl can dream).

Barbie

With her sleek, jewel-toned chair, this fashionista is joining in the important imaginative play of thousands of kiddos, (and the occasional 33-year-old woman), to teach them togetherness and to normalize diversity.

This toy is more than favorite plaything or pastime; this toy is a tool for teaching kids how to be comfortable and compassionate towards their peers who may not look, move, and live the way they do.

Mostly, this girl, with a pretty smile and confident pose, is helping thousands of kids who have disabilities and use wheelchairs celebrate who they are; when they hold this Barbie in their hand, and when they roll her wheelchair around their living room floor, they will begin to understand that they are not alone and that they are not the only kid whose body is different. They will know that different is not wrong, that they are exactly who they are supposed to be.

No matter how bad my eyes may be, it is clear that good change is happening; I want to see more of it. Toy companies, be like Barbie.

Love Grows Love

Life is the most impractical and fragile miracle; life never goes the way we plan — all the beauty and happiness of humanity can get marred by the ugliness of evil — and just as quickly as day becomes night, the magic of life is taken, swiftly and too easily.

Mindless tragedy is confusing; why anyone wouldn’t value and protect the miraculous gift of all life is incomprehensible for so many of us. Together, we may feel powerless against a darkness created by beliefs, values and prejudices that dehumanize and devalue and steal the precious breath of too many people.

In times of devastating heartbreak and fear, remember that there is no force greater or more powerful than love; light, love and compassion will rise from the destructive fires of hate and ignorance.

Wrap your arms around those you love most; hold tightly to the miracles surrounding you. Give thanks for another day, use time wisely and for good. Fix your eyes on morality, integrity, kindness and truth. The truth is, love grows and spreads like wild flowers wherever it is planted.

Goodness and Grace

So, my friends, I pledge to sprinkle love, kindness, happiness and compassion wherever I am. I pray you do the same. Though it feels like a dark day for so many of us, there will be bright spots among us, if we choose to see and be the light.

As you go out into the world today, carrying on with your daily routines and to-do lists, remember to act with love and compassion and know that goodness and grace will grow in your path.

There is peace even in the darkness of hate; there is calm in the mad noise and evil haste of our world. Go and find love. Create love and be love. Mostly, honor and protect the miracle of this day, of all life.

Be kind and gentle with yourselves and others – today and always.

When I Dream…

I dream of living in a world where the word ‘different’ doesn’t carry the weighted connotations of ”less than” or “outsider.” I dream of living in a world where different is a celebration not a condemnation. I dream of living in a world where different perspectives, ideas, lifestyles, races, faces, bodies, and abilities are seen and appreciated.

I dream of living in a world where different is the great equalizer, and the creator of opportunities to learn and connect, to fill unique niches, to understand and to think more broadly, and to make necessary changes to systems and policies so that we can all live happier, healthier, and more productive lives.

I dream of a day when the word “disability” isn’t spoken as a way to describe someone who is unable, but is a declaration of someone who is able to live an adventurous, love-filled, busy and impactful life, amidst some of the most challenging circumstances. I dream of a day when disability is completely abolished from all languages.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I dream of a day when people with mobility challenges are seen as strong and powerful people, not lacking abilities, but who live with additional abilities to think quickly and creatively to solve problems and create space where there is none.

I dream of a day when labels fall off and lose their meanings and when people are no longer cataloged — as disabled or otherwise. I dream of a day when we are all one humanity, with no boundaries or limits. I dream of a day when — whether you get around on your wheels, your heels, your hands, your crutches, or heck, you scoot around on your butt — you pick your place, you make your space and you fill it with confidence.

I dream of a day when I am not stared at as an oddity, as a puzzle to be solved, as questions to be answered; I dream of a day when I am seen, really seen, as the whole, entire woman I am.

I dream of a day when my disability is not a glaring issue, but just a glimpse into who I am: a goofy, smiley, smart(ass), compassionate woman who works hard, who loves and laughs even harder — and who feels most confident in a dress, some jewelry, and a red lip. 💄

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

When I Call Myself Disabled

When I call myself disabled, sometimes it’s an explanation for a chaotic reality or a reason for routine. It’s a guttural release of anger, annoyance, irritation and anxieties. It’s a badass badge honoring strength and determination. Other times it’s a scarlet letter, so big and red I can’t control its flare.

When I call myself disabled, it’s a flinch, a stare, a questioning or inquisitive glare. Not any more from a passerby’s curious eye, then from mine in my own mirror, counting my scars, marks, and bruises, and wondering, ‘where did this new one on my knee come from?’ 

When I call myself disabled, it’s constant tugging and pulling at my clothes, lamenting the fact that fighting with fabric is sometimes a losing battle; cotton, rayon, polyester and denim don’t always want to sit pretty on my sitting crooked body. It’s why I bought the Get Naked sign hanging in my apartment. It’s adjusting my legs, my spine and my neck, their muscles and bones lit up in fiery pain, so that I’m sitting up as straight and tall as I can; it’s wishing to blend in seamlessly with the crowd while hoping to be seen.

When I call myself disabled, it’s acknowledging that life with autonomy, choices, experiences and opportunities isn’t an impossible dream, but a logistical nightmare. It’s a crash course in creative, out-of-the box thinking, it’s knowing that adaptation and problem solving is a necessary, sometimes minute-by-minute, part of this life.

When I call myself disabled, it’s a collection of experiences continuously tipping the scales between grief and gratitude. It’s  grieving opportunities lost, access denied, relationships ended and abilities stolen, but it’s also gaining  a healing gratitude for my heart and my eyes and my mind and my voice — the critical functions to be a good, wise and loving human — that allows me to see the world through an ultra-compassionate lens, recognizing and renouncing injustices or inequalities; it increases my capacity for bonds and interconnections, forever tied through understanding and awareness.

When I call myself disabled, it is a fact; I can’t argue with reality. Instead I must surrender to my physical body, no matter if it’s slow, sluggish, riddled with pain, and a serious fall risk, it is mine.

When I call myself disabled, it is a prideful truth; a deep satisfaction in all that I have accomplished and achieved. It is a fear for my future but a celebration of my present.

When I call myself disabled, it is a battle cry to the army of disability warriors who surround me. It is a march in solidarity with the millions of people who know the injustice, who feel the inequality and who persevere through the struggle.

When I call myself disabled, it is knowing that I am more than a label stuck on by opinion; I am me for so many reasons and there is no one else I’d rather be.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.