Leanne’s perspective – it’s time to recognize us

Disability History week is in October. October is also Disability Employment Month

Disability history is important because it’s my history. It’s something that I can relate and belong to.

By Leanne Libas

The month of October showcases it prominence with Halloween, Breast Cancer Awareness, and Domestic Violence Awareness. What most people don’t know is that Disability History Week is part of October. Although Halloween and breast cancer and domestic violence awareness are very important, Disability History Week is also important.

Disability History Week landed on the week of October 11th, 2015. This concept was created by many advocacy organizations such as YO! Disabled & Proud. The purpose of Disability History Week is to educate others about life before the American Disabilities Act (ADA) and life after the act was passed. This type of education is suppose to be implemented in all California schools when the FAIR (Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, Respectful) Act was signed by Governor Jerry Brown on July 14th, 2011. The FAIR Act went into effect in the beginning of 2012. The FAIR Act not only requires to learn more about the basics of disability history, but also LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Question, Intersex and Allies) The results? Shockingly, this act is still not implemented in most of California’s education system. They are only a few schools that actually teach the students about disability history. This disgusts me because I never learned about Ed Roberts or Harvey Milk until the summer before my high school senior year.

I understand that some parents are hesitant about the FAIR Act since their concern is revolved around educating future generations about LGBTQIA history. Every person has a right to have his/her own personal beliefs. In order to establish your beliefs, you need to educate yourself. In my opinion, all students should learn about disability and LGBTQIA history because it’s relevant to today’s society. In society, some people still discriminate both the disabled and LGBTQIA communities. Sometimes this type of discrimination can be “swept under the rug” and “difficult to recognize.” Even after the Supreme Court decision of Obergefell v. Hodges, people like Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis still oppose gay marriage.

When I created my first disability advocacy club at my high school, I didn’t know what I was doing. I was a novice advocate fresh out of YLF (Youth Leadership Forum). I was mostly winging it and hoping for the best. My goal was to educate people about the disabled community. Last year, I planned my high school’s first disability history week with the help of some of my fellow club members and associated student body (ASB) members. The majority of my club participants did not know about anything disability history, so my plan was to not only educate the general student body but also the members of my club. I worked with YO! Disabled & Proud on this presentation and attempted to be confident when I tried to orchestrate it. Despite the fact that I had a full schedule of classes, orchestra, and cross country running, I didn’t mind taking on this challenge, But I immediately found out that I bit off more than I could chew. On top of that, I was preparing for the SAT, ACT, and college applications. You’re probably thinking, “How the heck did you do this?” Honestly, I don’t know and it still boggles my mind to this day. What I can say is that it takes a whole village to create this presentation.

On the day of the presentation, I was getting nervous, but I knew that I had the Powerpoint presentation ready. Besides, the volunteers from YO! Disabled & Proud would assist me with the presentation. My main concern was how many people were going to attend this event. I made it an open-invitation event; I made sure that I didn’t exclude anyone. The pressure was on because the ASB advisor came to the presentation. She was the one who assisted in the process of reserving the multi-purpose room for the presentation. Also she was a former special education teacher, so I knew that I had to present this coherently and correctly to the audience. The results of the disability history presentation were astounding. I was glad that there were about 20 students who came to the presentation. It went smoothly after the awkward introduction because we only had one microphone and the YO! Disabled & Proud advocates were in completely different areas.

I was happy with the presentation! I knew all that hard work paid off! It seems as if I did this by myself, but I didn’t. The ones that deserved the most credit are the ones who assisted me in this process: my club, ASB, and the YO! Disabled & Proud advocates. Without their knowledge and ideas, I would be a mess.

Unfortunately after the presentation, there was a teachers’ protest at my school district. The school district promised the teachers to increase their salaries after the recession ended. This caused some of the teachers to cancel any future club meetings in their classrooms because of their participation in the protest. This caused a decrease in students coming to club meetings. It was difficult for all of the clubs on campus. Even though my club advisor wanted me to continue the club, there were times where my patience was tested when my members didn’t come to scheduled meetings.

Although it wasn’t the best year for my club, I did one last presentation where we discussed about how the LGBTQIA and disabled community correlate with each other. I enlisted Andy, a colleague from Youth Leader Forum (YLF), to present since he’s more knowledgeable about the LGBTQIA than I am. There were less people than the previous presentation, yet my main goal was to at least educate one person in the room. It was nice to hear from Andy’s perspective during the presentation and some of the students who attended the presentation told me that they enjoyed it.

From this experience, I learned a lot about scheduling, advertising, and honing my advocacy skills. I wouldn’t change anything from my club experience because it taught me about leadership and how to present yourself to others.

It’s been awhile since I have participated in an advocacy organization. I do miss “Advocate Leanne” who actively volunteered and spent time on an organization. Don’t get me wrong! Writing for the Art of Autism is amazing and sharing personal experiences is another way that I advocate myself! But in order to make an impact, sometimes you have to go out there and make that change. With the recent circumstances I’ve been facing, I’m reassessing my current and future goals. After recently attending a YO! Disabled & Proud’s ADA Forum in my county, it reminded me about wanting to go back into advocating.

When I listened to all of the YO! Disabled & Proud advocates about their stories, it made me reminisce about how I listened to my first disability history presentation at YLF. That ADA forum was a reminder of why I wanted to become an advocate and make a difference. I know that we don’t live in a perfect world; that’s why we have movements such as the disability movement.

Disability history is important because it’s my history. It’s something that I can relate and belong to. I don’t want disabled students to feel out of place and letting them learn their history gives them more self-encouragement. I’m always proud to be disabled and I hope that I continually advocate not only for myself, but for others too.

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