International Day of People with Disabilities 2022

Graphic with the 7 actions mentioned in this post, condensed, on a black and light blue background. Bela's lightbulb and name logo are included, as well as a drawing of a disabled person in a wheelchair with a companion standing.

Graphic with the 7 actions mentioned in this post, condensed, on a black and light blue background. Bela’s lightbulb and name logo are included, as well as a drawing of a disabled person in a wheelchair with a companion standing.

IDPWD Should Be Everyday

Every day should be an International Day of People with Disabilities (IDPWD). But for the sake of this post and today, I want to talk about December 3rd being established by the United Nations (UN) as IDPWD. Before jumping into some actionable steps you can take to be more accessible and inclusive, I’d like to briefly introduce myself.

Who Am I to Discuss Disability?

I’m Bela!  Right, but you knew that already… let’s go deeper! 

I’m a 46-year-old, queer, colorblind, biracial Latina. I have 4 rare diseases (Spina Bifida, Tethered Cord Syndrome, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, and Gastroparesis).  I am currently in the process of being diagnosed with another rare disease and one ultra-rare disease.  I also have White Matter Brain Disease, Dysautonomia, Neurogenic Bladder, Hyperadrenergic Postural Orthostatic Syndrome, Small Fiber Neuropathy, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and Borderline Personality Disorder.

When I say I have live experience… I don’t play! 

My disabilities aren’t always apparent unless I am wearing my orthotics, braces, or seen walking with a limp or visibly flushed, sweating, and trembling thanks to my dysautonomia.  Below are two photos of me:  both disabled but definitely very different in my outward presentation.

Bela is a light-skinned Latina with short, black, curly hair with a large, colorful dragon tattoo on her right arm. She is out in nature with a forest behind her. She is wearing a black, traditional, Mexican, short-sleeved dress with bright, multicolored flowers. She has a large gold piercing in her nose, with gold hoops and carved antler studs in her ears. She's wearing a gold necklace with the birthstones of her and her children by Etsy, and another with a crescent moon and "chingona" (Spanish for a "badass woman") by Chingona. She is smiling proudly and holding her framed Master's degree.⁣⁣⁣

Bela is standing outside with a black, floral Mexican dress, holding her Master of Education degree.  Behind her is a lush forest.

Bela is laying in a hospital bed, recovering from spinal cord detethering surgery. She is smiling and happy to have coffee and eggs.

Nothing Without Us

On the UN site, it says, “Nothing about us without us”. What is meant by this is that nothing created about us [as disabled folks] should be made without our involvement. While I agree, I appreciate that Meryl Evans has taken it one step further to simply say: Nothing Without Us. We should be involved in everything, whether it’s perceived to affect us directly or not. That is true inclusion.

How You Can Be More Accessible Now

Here are some quick actionable steps you can do to be more accessible and inclusive to disabled folks. If there is anything you’re unsure of how it factors into accessibility or have any other questions, ASK! ❤

  1. Add alt text to your images AND include an image description. This benefits those with vision disabilities as well as neurodivergence.
  2. Reduce your use of emojis. Screen readers will read the name of the emoji EVERY time. Imagine how it sounds to repeat the same emoji 5 times in a row before even hearing the point of the content.
  3. Listen to folks with lived experience. I don’t care what you learned in school, it can’t compare to what folks with disabilities experience and the struggles they face.
  4. Along those lines, follow people with disabilities online to learn from them. Here are some folks and organizations I recommend: Diversability, August Rocha, Catarina Rivera, Meryl Evans, Jamie Shields, Luke Manton, Mary Fashik, Emily Ladau, Nico Meyering, Angela Young, Sheri Byrne-Haber, and so many more.
  5. Don’t center yourself in disability conversations. Proximity to disability (such as your uncle is disabled) does not mean that you understand what it is like to be disabled. Be there to learn, which sometimes means being silent or simply thanking disabled folks for sharing their experiences.
  6. Offer options for interactions. For example, in an audio event without live captioning or an alternative way to voice opinions, you’re excluding those with hearing and speech disabilities.
  7. Don’t make assumptions. Don’t judge someone on their exterior. Invisible disabilities are real. (You’d never tell someone, “You don’t look like you have cancer”, right?) Don’t assume that all deaf or Hard of Hearing (HoH) folks know sign language. Disabilities are often on a spectrum and they are not the same each day. If I wore my orthotics yesterday, but not today, I am not “better”.

Share Your Thoughts

What are some of the quick tips and actionable steps you would recommend for people trying to be more accessible?  On the flip side, what are the most troublesome inaccessible obstacles you face daily?  For me, they are insufficient color-contrast, using too much slang/jargon or abbreviations, and folks adding a new line between each sentence of their content.  It’s very inaccessible (and painful) for people like me who have mobility disabilities.

Sharing is Caring

If you know of someone who would appreciate this post, please share it with them!  You can also share it with your social media networks.

Want to support my advocacy?  You can:

Graphic with the 7 actions mentioned in this post, condensed, on a black and light blue background. Bela's lightbulb and name logo are included, as well as a drawing of a disabled person in a wheelchair with a companion standing.

Graphic with the 7 actions mentioned in this post, condensed, on a black and light blue background. Bela’s lightbulb and name logo are included, as well as a drawing of a disabled person in a wheelchair with a companion standing.

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