I’ve been bad. Very bad. I have not written here in a long, long time. In explanation, I have a confession to make. I have become disillusioned and disheartened with disability advocacy. Not in the overall purpose—my belief in the equality of people with disabilities and my passion for creating positive change have not changed. I am disheartened more by some of my fellow advocates and my quest to have a career in the disability rights field.
When my husband was offered a job near my family in Virginia and within commuting distance to DC, I was overjoyed. Although I loved the company I worked for and passionately believed in its mission, I had felt increasingly stifled. There was little opportunity for creativity or upward mobility. Additionally, I thought moving closer to DC would be the perfect way to follow my dream of becoming a disability advocate on the national stage. Without exception, all of our friends and colleagues thought this was an excellent decision and no one doubted I would find work quickly and easily.
The first few months went exactly as planned. I reached out to the leader of a national disability organization and, after a few months of interviews and persistence, was offered my dream job: Communications Manager for a national disability rights organization. I was over the moon. However, Fate—or God, whichever you choose—had other plans. The day after I signed the employment offer contract, my contact left the organization. I am not privy to the details, but that is not really the point. The Powers That Be decided not to bring me onboard after all. To say I was devastated would be a gross understatement. Being handed your dream only to have it ripped away from you a day later was a heavy blow.
Still, we had hope. If I had gotten a job for myself within a few months—an unsolicited one at that—then surely I could land another job in a reasonable amount of time.
That was 18 months ago.
I’ve applied for at least 100 jobs since then, and have only been to a half-dozen interviews, if that. At first, I only applied to disability-related jobs, but I soon realized I’d have to widen my net to communications jobs in other fields. Still no luck.
They say that networking is the key to finding a job. With this in mind, I tried to get involved with the disability crowd in DC and nationally. In some ways, I was successful. I met Day Al Mohamed, an amazing disability advocate—and great person!—who has helped me as much as she can. I worked with her on her documentary about the Civil War Invalid Corps, which was an educational and gratifying experience. I’ve also begun volunteering with a new organization, GADIM: Global Alliance for Disability in Media and Entertainment, which has helped my outlook tremendously in the last few weeks.
In other ways, I failed miserably to connect with people. Several people whom I met at an #ADA25 event completely blew me off. They told me to contact them later. I attempted to do that. Many times. Only to realize I was probably small potatoes to them and not worth their notice. Admittedly, I have missed some networking opportunities due to the difficulty in traveling to DC from Winchester. I cannot drive and I’m an hour away from the nearest Metro stop. This difficulty could be overcome if it were part of a routine, but it was hard to get transportation on short notice.
I think I began this endeavor with the rosy-red belief that all disability advocates would welcome me and help if they could, because, of course, “inclusion” is one of our most-used words. This is a fallacy. Every group of people, even those devoted to a cause such as ours, has its cliques, inconsistencies, and hypocrisies. I am an outsider, so why should they listen to me? I was not privileged enough to begin advocating as a child, or even as a young adult in college. I was the only disabled child I knew. I went to a small college in rural Virginia, which offered a good education, but nonetheless was not a hotbed of disability activism—or any activism for that matter. I did not realize it was even possible to devote one’s career to disability work until I was 23. And I didn’t move back to the DC area to pursue this passion until I was 28. By this point, some of my contemporaries had been involved in activism for over a decade. So, I was already at a disadvantage.
The realization that the community as a whole is not perfect, that it is made up of individuals who have their own agendas and personalities, is part of what has disheartened me.
My disillusion continued because of certain disability issues. For instance, my opinion on the PFL v. IFL issue is probably not the majority opinion. Many have stated that people who use PFL are ableist, while true advocates who identify as disabled use IFL. I use PFL all the time and I proudly identify as disabled. However, being disabled is not my only identity. I am curly-haired, a Virginian, a bookworm, a history nerd, an animal lover, etc., etc. I think it is a good thing that I am not solely defied by—nor do I only define myself by—my disability. It is only one part of what makes me who I am. I can believe this and still be a true, passionate activist. Like I said, though, this is not the majority opinion and smaller voices get lost in the din of the handful of people who tell us what we should think. There have been several instances like this, where I have felt that those who have a dissenting opinion have had their voices snuffed out. More recently, Jennifer Bartlett wrote in the New York Times that she longed to be catcalled as a disabled woman. She was swiftly criticized by fellow disabled women for perpetuating sexism. If this woman wants to be catcalled and feels like she does not have this experience because of her disability, so what? She’s entitled to her own desires and should not be lambasted for it, especially not be other disabled people.
This and more has resulted in a great feeling of having lost my way. There are times, especially recently, that I seriously doubt I was meant to do disability work as a career. Maybe I’m meant just to post random news stories on facebook and hope my friends read some of them. Maybe I’m only meant to groan and roll my eyes at ridiculous Helen Keller jokes on Family Guy. I don’t know. I feel lost and alone in this, and have no idea how to move forward, or if I even want to move forward.
I am not writing all this for you to pity me, nor do I claim that I am wholly a victim in my underemployed circumstance. This blog post has been a long time coming. Now, though, I believe that putting a voice to my feelings may help to clear my mind and reinvigorate my spirit. For, as I said in the beginning, I have never lost faith in the mission of disability advocacy, I have just lost my way on the career path of life.