By Selonia Miles
On July 26, 2020 we celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In honor of this moment, in partnership with the Training Alumni Association (TAA)- a grassroots advocacy organization comprised of Graduates from the Partners in Policy making (PIP) and Youth Leadership Academy (YLA) Training Programs, funded by the Virginia Board for People with Disabilities, I have planned a week-long virtual celebration in honor of the ADA.
We are living in a time where groups that have traditionally been marginalized are not only standing up and demanding to be seen; we are standing up and demanding to be respected. We are also telling our stories and celebrating our differences loudly and confidently.
"This shift in how we express our narrative is building pride within our communities and shaping new attitudes in society." ~Ms. Selonia Miles
Within marginalized groups, one group that does not receive the celebration it deserves is the Disability Community. We are socialized to believe that people with disabilities should been seen and not heard. As a result, we are not aware of the contributions people with disabilities have made to this country and they are often erased in history.
When people with disabilities are portrayed in pop culture, they are often portrayed in ways that make people who are not disabled feel comfortable. Which means characters are often highly stereotypical and are around to make others feel better about themselves rather than being portrayed as a people with goals and feelings. (Does that sound familiar?) They also tend to come from a wealthy White family with infinite resources. This means that Black people with disabilities rarely see themselves reflected. All of these reasons combined are what motivated me to team up with grassroots Disabilities Advocates to plan a celebration of the 30th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
I am the proud mother of a 15 year old boy who is smart, determined, athletic, and has a great sense of humor. He was also diagnosed with Level 3 Autism at the age of 3. It was at that time I began my journey as a Disability Advocate and I realized that there were two key components that I personally wanted to contribute to Disability Movement. I wanted to educate everyone of the contributions and challenges people with disabilities face, and I wanted to end the marginalization of people with disabilities. In the middle of this journey, I realized “I” was a problem.
"I had just began to familiarize myself with all the injustice and I just wanted to fix it for my baby, but in my quest to fix it, I was centering myself."
I had to take a step back and figure out how to end the injustice as an ally of the Disability Community. It is with this lesson that the 30th Anniversary of the ADA Virtual Celebration was shaped.
As an elected official, I am utilizing the access I have to create a platform for Disability
Advocates. Though I will make a couple of guess appearances, the week will be dominated by self-advocates in the Disability Movement. The week will begin with a history of the Disability Rights Movement and the passing of the ADA followed by four (4) consecutive days of self-advocates sharing their stories and informing us about how the ADA has affected their work as advocates. On Saturday, we will host a Day of Action where we will meet with legislators to discuss solutions for obstacles that currently impact the Disability Community while accessing transportation, and for the grand finale we will have a special message from a Disability Rights icon. It is my hope that this celebration is one of many times the Disability Community celebrates itself loudly.
Ms. Selonia Miles is a Disability Advocate and Councilwoman in the Town of Dumfries, Virginia.