Reclaiming The Accessibility Logo

Throughout the course of human history, symbols have held an important place in our collective consciousness. From cave drawings to hieroglyphics, street signs to Emojis, pictures have long been a means of sharing messages. Symbols can convey emotion, relay important information, tell stories, represent what is important to us and even alter the way we think. One of the most recognizable symbols in our culture is the international accessibility logo; a rather stiff looking stick character that conveys that society is putting forth an effort, at least minimally, to accommodate disabled people.

accessibility-iconWhen activists from the Accessible Icon Project set out to update the existing logo they fully understood the power of of symbols, that a picture truly is worth a thousand words. Brian Glenney and Sara Hendren from Massachusetts designed the new symbol as a way to counter the stigma associated with disabled individuals by portraying wheelchair users as more active. This updated logo was initially created as part of a guerrilla art movement, spray painted across existing signs, but was later adopted as my home state of New York’s official accessibility symbol. While there are still a great many hardships and inequalities present for the disabled community, I believe this symbol represents a positive change in perception

Building off of this concept, I decided to undertake a little digital art project to create a few of my own disabled logos in the same art-style. One of the first symbols I created was Darth Vader, being a massive Star Wars fan and all. There was just something so fun and empowering about depicting one of the most iconic villains of all time as a wheelchair user. Another character I created was Captain America, one of my favorite superheroes, I enjoyed making this symbol… super. I ended up sharing these logos on a fellow activist Jensen Caraballo’s Facebook group, Disability Community: Pride and Culture, where I realized how much people were excited about these creations.

Below are all the logos I have created so far…

Wheelie Vader.jpg

Darth Vader

Disabled Batman2


Disabled Wonder Woman.png

Wonder Woman

Disabled Batgirl

Barbara Gordon/Batgirl

Oracle (without weapons).png

Barbara Gordon/Oracle 


#TheAbleistScript: What We Can Learn

1446842995-TheAbleistScriptRecently disabled social media activists created a campaign using the hashtag #TheAbleistScript to shed light on the everyday ableism that is pervasive in our culture. There are so many words and ideas, scripts written by society, that reinforce the oppressive system of ignorance, hostility, erasure and discrimination towards disabled individuals. The Twitter based discussion has allowed disabled people of diverse impairments and backgrounds to share their experiences and voice their frustrations. Personally, being fully aware of the trials and tribulations of being disabled in an ableist world I was eager to put in my two cents, so to speak. While I felt strongly compelled to contribute, I also was equally interested in learning a few things.

Some of the biggest lessons I believe we should take away from this campaign are…

Ableism is a massively intersectional issue
The poor treatment and misunderstanding of disabled people is not a singular isolated problem it is deeply intertwined with almost all other forms of oppression. Things like police brutality, racism, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny and poverty, all overlap with ableism. Disability transcends race, religion, gender, economic status and age; any person can become disabled at any point in life.

Words have a major impact
The negative things that are often said to disabled people have a damaging effect on self-worth and confidence. The vast majority of the disabled population encounters microaggression, ableist language and hate speech throughout our lives. The words and phrases that abled people use, many times unintentionally, send harmful messages and reflect a deep-seated ableist narrative.

Representation is a necessity
Disabled people must overcome a myriad of false perceptions and stereotypes, one of the most effective methods of rooting out these views is positive representation. How disabled individuals are portrayed in film, television, literature, news media, etc. alter the way people think about disability. When it comes to representation, the younger that people are exposed, the easier it becomes for abled people to be understanding and for disabled people to love themselves.

The need for disabled allies
Much of the time there is great discussion within the disabled community, which is extremely important, but more people who are not disabled should be aware and supportive of the cause. The fight for disabled equality and perception unfortunately is not as well-known as some other social justice movements and even some of the most progressive seeming activists remain ableist. For example, mainstream feminism can sometimes fail to effectively include the struggles of disabled women along with the larger narrative of inequality.

Disabled people do not exist for inspiration
Inspiration porn and hero worship is a constant problem that so many disabled individuals to have to deal with. The extremely othering feeling of being put on a pedestal for simply existing creates barriers between abled and disabled people. Pity often goes hand-in-hand with the idea that impairments automatically make someone inspirational.

For disabled people, I feel that it is extremely important that we continue to have a voice on social media and in general. #TheAbleistScript is certainly not the first campaign regarding disability on Twitter and it certainly will not be the last, it serves to remind us how much work needs to be done in order to rid the world of ableism. This reminder also comes with hope that things will continue to change, that progress is always within reach. As Margret Mead once wrote, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

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The Fight Continues (Re-post)

This post was originally shared on my Man, Myth, Mike blog.

In my recent post, The Disabled States of America, I chronicled the rise and major events of the Disability Rights Movement in the US, in this post I would like to explore the continuing battle for disabled equality. As we celebrate a quarter-century with the Americans with Disabilities Act, it is important to realize that the struggle is far from over. The goal of fairness and freedom is a continuum of progress build upon itself, forever reaching towards the future. Disabled people in America and around the world still face substantial hardship due to societal inequities and perceptions. As an activist and disabled person myself, I feel that it is important for everyone to be aware of the current challenges.

Disabled activist Frank Bowe, known as the Father of Section 504, once wrote, “America handicaps disabled people. And because that is true, we are handicapping America itself.” The limitations placed on disabled individuals by our culture, not only deny basic rights but also hinder the advancement of our entire society. With around 34 million people in the United States with what is considered a “functional limitation”, it is impossible to ignore the issues associated with one of the largest minorities in this country. Many of those with mental, physical, visible and invisible impairments continue to struggle with lack of accommodation, difficulty getting funding and assistive equipment, poverty, damaging stereotypes, abuse and poor representation. I strongly believe that as a nation and as a global community we need to take a hard look at the treatment of disabled people.

As I mentioned, a major concern for many disabled individuals is poverty, with disability being both a cause and result of being poor. Currently in the US, physically and mentally impaired adults find themselves twice as likely to be living below the poverty line even with government assistance. A fairly recent Huffington Post article (click to read) describes this relationship between disability and poverty as well as a few companies working to break down these barriers. Obviously, not all disabled people are able to work and nor does a person need to work to have value in life, but those who can and desire to work face overwhelming odds in the workforce. The ADA may have helped to legally limit workplace discrimination, however, it is still mainly up to employer to decide what is considered “reasonable accommodation” and some organizations remain legally allowed to pay far below the federal minimum wage. The prospect of economic independence for disabled individuals able to work is still very low despite advances in accessibility and assistive technology. 

Another considerable obstacle when it comes to being disabled in the US is the structure of the medical equipment industry. For those who rely on assistive technology, the battle for essential mobility, communication and health related devices can be a lifetime struggle. My family and I have experienced these challenges firsthand, each step of the process as complex and tedious as the last. My blog post from last year, A Work In Progress, discusses some of the challenges of getting a power-wheelchair. Navigating the channels of doctors, insurance companies, service providers and the government is a harrowing task for those familiar with the system and a complete nightmare for the inexperienced. The resources that disabled rights activists fought so hard for do exist but no one teaches you how to be a disabled person. 

To me, the biggest problem that remains is inaccessibility, the barriers both physically and societally. Accommodation is seen as a luxury and even a burden, our identities reduced to either pity or inspiration, entire systems stacked against us, our lives seen as inherently broken. Disabled people live in a society that was not created with us in mind, a world that feels like it’s simply not meant for us. There may have been victories won, laws passed and outcomes altered but progress must continue within our culture’s consciousness as well as in its actions. Disabled activists have shown me what can be done, my own life and the lives of others have shown me what must be done and it is up to all of us what will be done.
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Politically Disabled

Currently in the United States, the air waves are completely saturated with talk of the upcoming presidential election, the field of candidates discussing a wide array of topics and issues. Unfortunately, of these talking points on both sides of the political spectrum, very rarely do we hear anything relating to disability. Since the passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act more than twenty-five years ago, disabled rights have unfortunately appeared very little in the mainstream political consciousness. As politics take center stage in the United States, it is important that disability affairs play a part in the general discourse in the months ahead.wheelchair-logo

If we look at disability in broadest sense it impacts around 57 million people in the U.S., arguably the largest minority in existence. In this era of “special interest” politics, disabled Americans could easily be seen as a major untapped constituency able to sway elections and policy. Many view disability and politics as somewhat separate but they are, in fact inseparably linked. A candidate’s stance on subjects such as healthcare, infrastructure, government assistance, education and veterans affairs directly effect millions of disabled Americans. When deciding who to vote for in state, local and national elections disabled rights is yet another factor to consider

Sadly, for many disabled people in this country just being able to have a voice politically is a problem unto itself due to the inaccessibility of voting. According to a National Council on Disability (NCD) study of the 2012 election more than 40% of those surveyed faced physical barriers when it came to voting. Some states also still have antiquated voter laws that unfairly exclude some mentally disabled voters. Voting may seem like a minor issue in the grand scheme of disability rights but it is a right every American is entitled to, it is the root of all freedom. As President Lyndon B. Johnson once said, “A man without a vote is a man without protection.”polling_place

Disabled men and women still remain majorly disadvantaged in America with very little representation politically to affect change. There are only a handful of disabled politicians in office and translating the needs of the disabled community into legislative action can often be difficult. Fellow disabled blogger, Andrew Pulrang points out in his own post about disability and politics that many advocates of disabled rights are not professional activists and tend to think in more localized terms. Despite systemic and attitudinal obstacles, it is important that disabled Americans take more of an interest in government and that the government take a greater interest in disabled individuals.

Anyone who doubts the adverse impact that political decisions can have on a disabled population need only look at the United Kingdom’s “Fit For Work” crisis. The UK’s conservative leaning government drastically cut supplemental income to many individuals living with invisible illness and disability under the false pretense of empowerment causing more than 2,000 brits to die. In the US, the debate over government assistance could eventually cause a similar problem. No matter the topic may be, the disabled perspective is something that must be considered when it comes to politics. Democracy is the most effective when all voices are heard and all needs are considered.

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The Disabled States of America (Re-post)

This post was originally shared on my Man, Myth, Mike blog.

History is made by those who challenge the status quo, those who seek change within and far beyond their own lives. Movements for equality are born from the devoted few making the voices of the many singular. When a marginalized group speaks up in the name of freedom and justice it is often an act of necessity; it is not simply that they can be heard, it is that they must be heard. When most think about campaigns of social justice the images that generally come to mind are that of the African-American Civil Rights Movement, Woman’s suffrage or LGBTQ rights, however, one of the more overlooked but equally as important battles is the American Disability Rights Movement.

Throughout history disabled people have largely be excluded from mainstream society. People like myself in the past faced mass institutionalization, abuse, neglect and even death. Progress towards better treatment was painfully slow despite advances in technology and culture, even after the U.S. was lead by a disabled president, Franklin D. Roosevelt for 12 years. Prior to the Disability Rights Movement, being disabled was widely regarded as a purely medical issue and not a matter of social equality. One of the first major concepts presented by disabled rights activists was that accommodation and inclusion were not simply acts of charity but instead basic human rights. 

It is no coincidence that the push for disabled rights came at the heels of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the powerful efforts of black activists such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks and Malcolm X. Many disabled individuals felt that the Civil Rights bill, while a major victory on the road to equality, failed to protect against discrimination based on disability. Much like the fight for racial justice, disabled activism set out to change both perception as well as legislation. As Margaret Mead once wrote, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” This pivotal campaign for the fair treatment of disabled Americans certainly echoes Mead’s sentiment.

Early on, a crucial milestone of the larger disabled movement was the Independent Living Movement in the 1960’s, where activists such as Ed Roberts from California advocated for equal living, educational and work opportunities for disabled persons. In turn, it began to shift public opinion leading to the first federal legislation. The Architectural Barriers Act of 1968 was passed to address the barriers that physically disabled people faced within society. 

Another major turning point was the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, which was further expanded in 1977 due to widespread direct-action protesting lead by people like Frank Bowe and Judith Heumann (currently Special Advisor for International Disability Rights to President Barack Obama). The Rehabilitation Act and specifically it’s section 504 provision prevented any organization receiving government funding to discriminate against qualified disabled individuals. 

However, the most important event to date in the history of disabled rights in the U.S. did not occur until 1990, when the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed. This sweeping bill was imposed by congress and later signed into law by President George H.W. Bush twenty-five years ago this past July. The ADA, while certainly not perfect, is intended to end discrimination towards a wide array of impairments and illnesses. The groundbreaking law was made possible by a diverse group activists and lawmakers. 

A very notable cross-disability organizer and ADA advocate was Fred Fay, who was able to remotely unite and manage the cause quite literally flat on his back. Dr. Fay was paralyzed at the age of 16 and due to a spinal cyst spent the last 25 years of his life in a laying position, he was a pioneer of disabled rights his entire career able to bring together multiple disability groups under the common theme of stigma and oppression. He once said, “Disability is equal opportunity, anyone can qualify at any moment.’’

The brave men and women of the Disability Movement devoted their lives to the betterment of disabled people everywhere, I owe a personal debt of gratitude to the work of these amazing people. So many things I am able to do with my life today are the direct result of this powerful social justice movement. I am inspired to continue the fight for a better tomorrow each time I learn about the efforts of civil rights activists, they are living proof that our voice matters.

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Forward Unto Progress

Progress; one of the most important aspects of life, it is what fills us with purpose and what allows us to grow. In the world of disability, progress is absolutely key, individually and as a culture it is the catalyst for better lives. On a personal level, change is somewhat of a constant and something I have had to learn to embrace. Being disabled for over 15 years has radically altered how I see the world and who I am as a person. As I have grown older I have begun to reject my own internalized ableism and recognize disability as an indivisible part of my unique identity.

635660918521092486-689122-1-In 1998, my younger brother and I were diagnosed with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, a progressive neuromuscular disease. At first, this news was devastating for our family, it felt as if our future had been stolen from us. With little to be done medically, getting involved with the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) seemed to be in our best interest. The organization represented the best chance to find a cure, our priority at the time. This was still in the era of the Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon, a 20+ hour parade of absolute pity and exploitation. A telethon repeatedly criticized by disabled activists for its reinforcement of negative stigma.

I was just a child at the time, so naturally I went along with fundraising and general cure based advocacy, it simply felt like the right thing to do. Organizations like MDA rely on the feeling of powerlessness that many families face in order to raise money and awareness. It was my parents who eventually decided that instead of fighting for this misguided cause we would fight for independence and self-determination. We embraced the get busy livin’ path of Morgan Freeman’s classic monologue from The Shawshank Redemption. An object of pity is something we have never wanted to be.

90ba2341907df12049cff3104aecf850As the disease progressed and mobility became more difficult, the need for wheelchairs arose. This was something that I was extremely reluctant to accept, I somehow saw it as a failure on my part. At the time, I refused to see myself as anything other than normal, how could I be one of those people? Looking back, I realize that I viewed disability rather poorly, I was afraid to be seen as a disabled person. Even with a brother in the same situation and a fantastic support network, it took years for me to let go of the internalized prejudice I held.

I can admit that my views were quite problematic in the past but I can also confidently say that I have learned and continue to learn everyday. My life is a testament to the power of activism, my perceptions have shifted because of people like Stella Young, Ed Roberts, Judith Heumann and Fred Fay. The disabled communities on sites such as Twitter and Tumblr have taught me to be proud of who I am, to feel a sense of solidarity with other disabled people and to develop a passion for the betterment of disabled life everywhere.

With this blog, I hope to educate others about the disabled identity and point out the inherent ableism in modern society. I would like to share my thoughts and the thoughts of others in order to shift perceptions and foster a sense of community.

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