Did you know that July is Disability Pride Month? This celebratory month is dedicated to increasing visibility and commemorating the disability community. The first Disability Pride parade took place in the year of 1990 in Boston. Now, there are many cities throughout the United States celebrating disability identity, culture, and positivity.
My journey advocating for disability rights and justice began in high school at a small scale as a member of Best Buddies, which is an organization dedicated to creating an inclusive and barrier-free environment for students with disabilities. At the time I was in high school and discovered my love for disability advocacy. Fast forward to a long hiatus from 2016 to 2018, I rediscovered my passion for disability access and awareness. During my time in college, I focused on other activities like student government and council work.
During my time in student government, I joined the Access and Compliance Team (ACT) to discuss innovative solutions to increasing access and accessibility for folks with disabilities on my college campus. I met Paul An and Catherine Whitaker, two very important individuals that have shaped my commitment and passion to uplifting the disability community.
Paul An inspired me to join the Access and DisABILITY Alliance during the 2018-2019 academic year, which is an affinity group on campus focusing its efforts on sharing resources and establishing a community for students, faculty, and staff. I was immediately intrigued at the first meeting because they were very open, welcoming, and inclusive for all participants. I personally felt empowered and valued as a new member. I learned that Catherine Whitaker was president, so we had the opportunity to continue connecting and working together.
Since that first meeting, I was inspired to get more involved in this community. One of the tasks of the affinity groups on campus is planning Unity Luncheon, an annual banquet-style event handing out awards to students who have all made a significant impact in their communities whether that be the Black, Latinx, Indigenious, Asian-American, Disability, or Pride community. One affinity group hosts the event every year, and 2019 was the year that the Access and DisABILITY Alliance’s turn to host. Catherine mentioned that they were looking for a Co-Chair, and I was interested in being considered. It was a huge success, and it generated interest and awareness for the disability community.
Aside from the Access and DisABILITY Alliance, Paul An dedicated his senior academic year developing and promoting his organization called United with Differences. He created this organization to promote a space and platform for the disability community at my university. The organization’s main role was to plan an event to guide awareness and bring about empathy. Paul did an incredible job with the event, bringing a keynote speaker and panelists across the campus.
I was disheartened to discover that the event was not continuing the next year. I decided with a group of students to organize the event during the 2019-2020 school year. We interviewed potential speakers for the event, had around 150 people at the event, and made a big impact on the community. Through all of these experiences, I was awarded the diversity champion award for the Unity Luncheon event this year. Due to COVID-19 the Unity Luncheon event has since been postponed. Despite this, I cannot wait for the event to transpire so I can give my speech to the campus community.
With all of these experiences, you may be wondering, why do I care about disability justice? From personal experience working and engaging with many different people with disabilities, I have noticed that people with disabilities are stigmatized, and are not given equal opportunities. The U.N. stated that 80% of people with disabilities are unemployed. I am baffled by this statistic because it is almost unbelievable. There are so many statistics that reflect how badly people with disabilities are treated, and I believe people would be surprised by this reality.
According to the World Health Organization, People with disabilities are the biggest minority. With social justice surfacing even more now, we are still doing a disservice to people with disabilities by not including their voices in the social justice discussions. We have a lot of work to do regarding social justice, but we cannot continue to ignore the existence and visibility of people with disabilities.
As public relations professionals, it is our job to connect brands, influencers, and companies. If we aren’t connecting a specific audience to these brands, we are failing to do our job as communicators. We need to shift how we view disability and what it means to have a disability. What I ask of you is to research different resources that touch on disability, ableism, and discrimination for people with disabilities. I hope we can progress a movement of empathy, understanding, and inclusion for all groups.
Zane David Landin, PRSSA 2020–2021 vice president of career services, is a senior from the California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. He will graduate in December 2021 with a Bachelor of Science in Communication with an emphasis in Public Relations. He has a strong passion for academics, design, social issues, creative writing, and learning new things all the time. Upon graduation, he hopes to be accepted into the master’s program in strategic communication at Columbia University to work at a public relations firm, the government, a nonprofit, or a university. Eventually, he plans on completing his Ph.D. in Disability Studies with an emphasis in Communication Disorders to become a university professor and conduct research on accessible communication practices advocating for universal design.