When I enter spaces of social justice, I am often greeted with “We’ll talk about disability later.” Disability is a topic that gets lost in the archives for some undefined time that is “later;” in the future we will have time to discuss disability. It tends to collect dust, remain unexplored. Nevertheless, I remain in these spaces, not merely wishing someone would think to discuss disability, but with the understanding that it is up to me.
A few months ago, I was at a meeting where people were presenting on discrimination. They prefaced their presentation with, “For these purposes, we are focusing on racism.” I understand this, as racism, is a widely discussed topic, and these were undergraduate students who probably have not been trained in other areas. However, I cannot say I was not disheartened.
Fortunately, another student raised her hand and voiced her concerns on how using such a narrow topic to explain discrimination as a whole could further marginalize other groups, naming the disabled community in particular. I do not know if this girl has any sort of disability, and it is not my place to speculate, but I am thankful. It was wild to think that one question could make me feel like I was not invisible–like I was a valuable part of the group.
While that moment was uplifting, the tone quickly changed when the people giving the presentation said, “We’ll get to that some other time.” Those words, though annoyingly familiar, made my jaw drop. I could not fathom how someone could just dismiss that concern when they intend to promote equity. I wish I could say that I spoke up, but instead, I sat silently, holding back tears. I am no stranger to “some other time,” and in my twenty-one years of experience, “some other time” is a euphemism for “that’s not our priority.” Of course this is just my interpretation, but it is true that the conversation seldom occurs.
While I did not speak up on that occasion, a few weeks later, I gave a presentation on disability to that group. It seemed to garner a good response, but it is too early to tell if my presentation made a significant impact. This ordeal has reminded me that disability is a topic rarely explored; a topic I often have to bring to the surface if I want change. I hope that the disabled community will one day be part of the conversation for social justice, but for now, we will fight for a voice.