Disability Pride: ‘Disability Doesn’t Mean Inability’

with Kendra E. Davenport of Easterseals and disability activist Emily Ladau

Despite legislative protections provided by the Americans with Disabilities Act, many people with disabilities still experience stereotyping, stigma, and discrimination.

Kendra E. Davenport, President and CEO of Easterseals, and Emily Ladau, writer and disability activist, join host Tetiana Anderson for a conversation on the current state of equity for people with disabilities.

Posted on:

June 29, 2023

Hosted by: Tetiana Anderson
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Anderson: Since the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law in 1990, the disability rights movement has made great strides towards greater access and inclusion. But there's still work to be done to ensure people are seen before their disability. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. Studies show people with disabilities continue to experience societal stigmas, discrimination, and negative attitudes. But today's disability community is empowered and proud of who they are as they continue to push for equity. And joining me to talk about all of this is Emily Ladau, writer and disability activist, along with Kendra Davenport, President and CEO of Easterseals. Ladies, thank you so much for being here.

Davenport: Thank you so much for having me.

Ladau: And thank you so much for having me, too.

Anderson: So, Emily, I actually want to start with you because there was a time when people with disabilities were hidden. Given today's current stigma, the lack of inclusion and access, how true would you say that that still is?

Ladau: I think that the first thing to keep in mind is that, yes, people with disabilities may appear to be hidden, but, in reality, 1 in 4 Americans has a disability and so, even if we can't necessarily see it, even if it's not apparent, disability is not a niche issue. We may hide it away because we don't understand it, because we fear it, because we haven't learned enough about it to recognize it as just another part of the human experience, but, really, you or somebody you know has a disability. And so, when we think about hiding disability away, we have to realize that people are hiding themselves away because they are told that disability is not a welcome part of their communities. But disability is all around us.

Anderson: And, Kendra, I'm wondering what your take on this is and I know that we talk about this in my capacity as national board secretary for Easterseals, but what would you say to our viewers about the sort of state of equity for people with disabilities?

Davenport: I think equity has improved, Tetiana. Since the passing of the ADA a little more than 30 years ago, disabled people do realize more equity, more inclusion, more accessibility, but there's a long way to go before they really are seen as equals and before people really don't see the disability first, but see the person first.

Anderson: Every July is Disability Pride Month. What have you learned about why it's so important for the community to have that pride and what's Easterseals doing to bolster that?

Davenport: I think what Easterseals is doing is trying, really, to help people understand what disability is and what it isn't and that disability doesn't mean inability. So, we do all kinds of things, throughout the year, to heighten awareness around the need for equity, inclusion, and accessibility to promote more, so that people with disabilities can lead their best life, can realize their fullest potential, and can be treated just as you and I would treat one another without a disability.

Anderson: And, Emily, we have to bring you into this question because it's important to understand what disability pride means to you.

Ladau: So, as somebody who was born with my physical disability, disability has always been a part of who I am, but for so long, I pushed that part of myself aside and the biggest compliment that you could give me was to say, "Oh, I forgot that you had a disability," or "I don't think of you as using a wheelchair." And I realized that I was hiding and erasing a part of myself, even though other people could still see that part of me, and I've since moved forward into this mind-set of feeling proud of who I am because disability is what makes me who I am. It is a part of me. It's a natural part of me and I want people to see that. I want people to celebrate it. I don't want to be ashamed of it. I don't want you to feel uncomfortable. I just want you to understand that I honor who I am. There is a history, a culture, a community behind me, and I'm so proud to be a part of that and so when I think about disability pride, I want people to know that I celebrate myself and I hope that you will celebrate disability as a part of me, too.

Anderson: And this all leads to the idea that, of course, there are still some missing pieces, right? When it comes to full access, when it comes to full equity, when it comes to full inclusion. All of these are core to Easterseals' mission. And I know, Kendra, in 2023, Easterseals put out the Easterseals State of Disability Equity and Access report. What have you learned from that report and how does it inform the work that you plan to do in the future?

Davenport: It's a great question. That report really serves as a clarion call to action because there is still so much to be done and, if we just take one component of what needs to be done, it would be focused on employment. Employers -- we try to help employers understand that, by creating a more diverse workforce, you empower not just people with disabilities, but people without disabilities. Studies show that teams that are more diverse and include people with disabilities are much more productive, they're happier, morale is higher. That's just one aspect of that report. There's so much more, that has to do with access to education and healthcare and transportation. That report summarizes what still needs to be done and, really, picks up from what was done back 30 years ago with the passage of the American Disabilities Act.

Anderson: So, Kendra, people are going to have questions. What is the website, where should they go look?

Davenport: They can go to Easterseals.com to learn more about our program services and the advocacy we provide.

Anderson: Kendra, thank you for being here.

Davenport: Thank you so much for having me.

Anderson: And, Emily, thank you as well.

Ladau: Thank you so much for having me.

Anderson: And thanks to our viewers as well for watching. As always, for more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the nation, visit Comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Tetiana Anderson.

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