I’m not the most vocal advocate since I’m off the charts on the introvert side of the scale, yet I do have a reputation for being a strong leader and at times a trouble maker. I’m not joking when I say that I don’t know how I achieved the status of being a troublemaker, as I follow the rules most of the time. I do have a strong commitment to my moral code, similar to Guilford College’s seven core values. That is probably why I flourished there. I have been called a bridge builder and I like finding consensus. I think my strong sense of values help me build that consensus, especially when I share a common value with someone. I will do whatever it takes to work with someone to find a solution. One thing I remember fondly about Guilford was that they had their code of values written on the flags throughout the campus. It’s good to have those reminders everywhere, but even during my time at Guilford, I don’t believe we all lived up to the ethics we all read every day.
In my opinion, you can only say you have certain principles if you demonstrate them in your everyday life. The adage is correct; actions do speak louder than words. Soon after I left Guilford, I took a class called Partners In Policy Making. It was an eight–month leadership development experience for people with disabilities and their families. As a gift for completing the program, I received the book, “Getting to Yes.” For those of you who don’t know, it’s a famous book about negotiation, written by people from Harvard. I think I’m particularly good at one of the steps which is focusing on people and not their positions. As an advocate, I interact with a lot of politics and politicians. It would be very easy for me to allow my personal viewpoints on politics to skew my advocacy. But, my commitment to the values mentioned in the ADA and my knowledge of the history behind the laws prevent me from being biased in my advocacy. Maybe it’s because I think about the election so much, but I get nervous about the lack of cooperation between both of the major political parties.
It is imperative for me to help build bridges. Both sides can claim responsibility for our progress on disability rights and I don’t want to see that go away. One interesting fact is that almost every major piece of disability legislation has been signed by a Republican president with a lot of cooperation from the other side of the aisle. We need to find a way out of this hyper-partisan environment in which we find ourselves. I would like to say one thing; maybe Donald Trump opened the door to more disability rights protections when he mocked the journalist with a disability. I don’t know if you saw, but the Democrats did a lot of work with their response during their convention. This year is the first time in a long time that disability is a campaign issue. I don’t usually cry while watching the conventions but I’ll be open and say I did this year because the points the DNC talked about were a lot of my issues. I would like to see a lot of the things said in the election this year never be repeated, but the interest in disability as a campaign issue should stay.
As I was saying, the ADA itself mentions values. I share these values. They include Equality of Opportunity, Full Participation, Independent Living and Economic Self-Sufficiency. You’ll notice that these values are broad and we should be able to get behind them. The first goal of the ADA and all other federal disability laws is to make opportunities equal. It’s not about special treatment; it’s about giving people with disabilities the same opportunities as every other citizen. What we choose to do with these opportunities is up to us. Please don’t pity or go easy on us, I just ask for the same possibilities and treatment that you would give everyone else. Along with equal opportunity, federal law also encourages full participation. What that means to me is that people with a disability should have access to all facets. Because of the ADA, we are entitled to have access to all public accommodations. That includes restaurants, movie theaters, stores, pretty much any business you can conceive.
The third goal is independent living. Ideally, services are designed to be given to the community of people with disabilities’ choosing. Therefore, they have the power and responsibility for their own lives and to live with their consequences if necessary. Having self-determination is important. In fact, it’s a right given to all citizens in our founding documents. With that being said, independent living is misleading as a goal, and in my opinion, we should all strive for “interdependent” living. If you think about it, no one lives completely independently. For example, we all don’t make our own clothes; we pay someone else to make them.
The last goal of the ADA is economic self-sufficiency. This goal is probably the hardest one the American society can grasp. People with disabilities are still less likely to have full paying jobs compared to ordinary individuals. Many other people with disabilities are in my position, which is underemployed. I do have a job, but the majority of the work I do is pro-bono in the truest sense. I don’t receive any economic gain, but I feel compelled to sit on all these boards and try to make a difference as long as I can. I get a lot of intangible benefits, but it would be nice if my work could be recognized in some form of compensation. I understand the fear that payment may cause a conflict of interest. Imagine the good we could do if more people viewed pro-bono work similar to the way I do. I understand that not everyone is going to spend the time to sit on local boards, but everyone can give something to their community.
I bet you didn’t know that the ADA had values directly mentioned within it. Both the ADA and Guilford’s Core Value flags have the same problem. If you don’t live them, they’re just words on a page or a flag. I hope talking about the ADA in the way that I did shows a way that we could put values around disability rights and practice. I also hope that my leadership puts Guilford College’s Core Values into practice. The one Core Value I find myself thinking about the most is Stewardship. That might be surprising to you, given that I’m only 26 and I have a long life ahead of me still. And notice that I didn’t quit advocating. However, now that I have mentors in the disability rights, I understand that not every problem is going to be solved overnight. And I’m not going to be able to solve any problems on my own.
Although I am younger than many of my mentors, I find myself following in their footsteps by training and educating more advocates. I’m currently helping to teach a class call Disability Advocacy Training in Actions (also called DATA) in Winston-Salem. I’m proud of the composition of my class. We have parents, people with disabilities and professionals. These are three very different perspectives that are all learning together. Surprisingly in the past, these three groups have discovered the same things but in separate environments. It’s been fascinating to participate the discussions we’ve gotten into in class coming from the three perspectives. I’m sure that different complex social problems like disability rights can be ameliorated using the same techniques of gathering various stakeholders. The one thing I would like to avoid in my class is talking problems to death without acting on solutions. That is why we placed “Action” in the title. Despite my natural introversion, maybe I am a leader. One of the best characteristics of a leader is that they seek the growth of other trailblazers, and come to think of it, that’s exactly what my class is accomplishing.
- Posted by Bryan Dooley
- On November 2, 2016
- 0 Comments