Transcript: Advocacy in Gen Z

Julia Hartman: My name is Julia Hartman.

Asha Jones: My name is Asha Jones.

Together: And you are parked in the access aisle!

Julia: So what I do, and what Asha does, is that we are EQUIP leaders, with Able South Carolina. And what that means is that we help run Able’s Youth Leadership Program, “EQUIP” for youth with disabilities, between the ages of 13 and 28, and teach them about how to speak up for themselves, different ways to advocate and their legal rights under disability rights law.

A: We also do a lot of public education doing different presentations both to youth and those who work with youth, and we try to educate on disability rights and self-advocacy and multiple topics relating to youth and disability.

J: Yeah, we do things like: do school visits at high schools and elementary schools, events for the general public, like any sort of conference, or things like that or any sort of presentation that you could see in a public place. We were thinking a lot about how disability advocacy has changed over the past. 30 to 40 years and it’s changed a lot. We don’t necessarily do a lot of the same things that people in the past would have done. A lot of what we do with EQUIP is educating people, helping them learn how to speak up for themselves, how to advocate which is speaking up for themselves and just what they need to know about different laws that help people with disabilities in their community.

A: And speaking about those laws, coming up here in July is going to be the 29th anniversary of the ADA which is the Americans with Disability Act, and that’s kind of like, as Julia to explain it, the Bill of Rights where people with disabilities. And so we’re kind of here to talk today about how advocacy has changed since the ADA’s passing. Now me, I was born about seven years after the ADA. I don’t know about… You don’t have to give you what your age, of course, but you were primarily here during the post-ADA,

J: I’m 23, so…

A: Yeah, okay,

J: So a lot of the ways that we advocate has changed, it’s not necessarily doing a lot of big things like big protest a lot of time, although that does happen in present day for some laws or some things that people want passed, whether it be something that happens in someone’s town or something on the national level, a lot of the time it can be just encouraging people to write letters to the representatives or even just lending people know, “Hey, these are the laws. So that help you do the things that you want, whether it’s to get the things you need in school. Are you be able to go into a store?” These are those laws just having people be aware of them.

A: Yes, because, while our forebears definitely have put in the work to get these laws, to be there, we can’t necessarily benefit from them unless we enforce them and make others enforce them, and so we need to be aware of what our rights are under these, under these laws and know how to go about them and how to go about advocating for ourselves and others so that we can experience the equity these laws are trying to create that have been put in place by those who came before us.

J: It’s like a garden. The people that originally advocated for those laws planted all the plants in the garden, but we’re the ones in charge of watering the garden. Now, and making sure the plants are still alive

A: And chasing out any dear who try to eat them.

J: One big thing that we have today, one tool that we have in our advocacy tool box that not necessarily the previous advocates have all the ones that are still alive still will have these tools at their disposal is the internet. I actually found out about Able South Carolina through Googling disability rights organizations in my area and I wouldn’t have found out about it if it wasn’t for Google. My mom said that when I was first born she had a really hard time finding disability resources when I was born. The internet wasn’t exactly, brand new because it was 1996, but still it was hard for her to find resources. But after a quick Google search one day, I found out about Able what they did volunteer for a year, and then I got hired on as an EQUIP leader.

A: Google didn’t exist in 1996 so…

J: There were other search engines.

A: Yeah, there were, there were, but I was just like, you know, it would have been harder. So, yeah, I definitely agree about the internet. It’s a very useful tool and social media is a very, very important tool that a lot of disability advocates use to kind of get the message out there. One, it’s accessible to a wide variety of people who have disabilities for example, if they’re not necessarily out, be able to be out there in the streets, they can get their message from their homes out into the world and have a wide audience that listens to them.

We even have things like Memes that we could use to kind of spread that message which is just that, an image, maybe a little bit of text and those can go viral, pretty quickly. And within that small image-text combination, you have a lot of people that heard your message.

J: They’re like inside jokes of the internet. Like political cartoons, sort of.

A: One of my favorite tools to use for disability advocacy is, well it used to be Facebook, now it’s more Twitter simply because I have a wider audience and you get to interact with, again, other people who have disabilities and those who are one of the biggest people I didn’t interact with are parents, parents who have children with disabilities, who are interacting with adults, so the same disabilities their children have to kind get that viewpoint and maybe even advice on what their children could possibly be going through and getting it from that kind of first-hand perspective rather than that of a outside perspective which can sometimes lead to some like patronizing attitudes and behaviors.

J: Or them getting the wrong information or information that they don’t necessarily need.

A: Yes, yes, I definitely agree with that.

J: Some ways that I like to be a good advocate is just educating people around me about disability issues that affect the disability community. Often what I do is post videos or other articles, Facebook and explain my personal experiences of how I relate to those articles ’cause a lot of the time, especially with older siblings or older relatives, they might not necessarily quite understand. So putting it on a platform that they often use and break it down into a friendly way so I can meet them one-on-one at their level helps just having conversations every day, with anyone really.

A: Yeah, I definitely think that conversation every day is kind of important. I just kind of integrate it into your everyday life. Disability is one of those topics that I’ve always loved to talk about with people. I also think that, elevating the voices of people around me who have disabilities is always really important especially do it with, well, people who have different disabilities than I, or even some of the same because we all have different experiences and I think one of the most important things that people without disabilities can do for the disability community is to elevate our voices by sharing the things that we have decided to share or put out there.

J: It’s also really important that I’ve learned from my personal experiences. Put it in a friendly way, in a friendly calmly. For example, I talking to my brother a few weeks ago and he was saying one of the companies he is now training to work for provide money, so that schools can provide Limos for “students with special needs” going to prom. And I calmly told him, “Hey I wasn’t sure if you knew this but actually a lot of people with disabilities consider “special needs” kind of an insult and kind of condescending because that term comes from a time where people with disabilities were considered something you don’t talk about and were sent off to places to live, not necessarily in the public eye. So things like… What’s the word, “institutions!” things like that. So that’s the origin of that word. And people are gradually trying to phase that out. So, please don’t use that.

And he said, “Okay, I won’t use that anymore.”

A: Yeah, sometimes it’s just as simple as having that conversation, ’cause people sometimes honestly just don’t know, or maybe they have some misinformation. And so I definitely think there’s an advantage to having open conversations and acknowledging that not everybody knows the same thing or has been exposed to the same thing, and even when it’s a more difficult situation I think that a lot of times it’s still important for those conversations to be had.

J: And also keeping yourself aware if you’re not familiar with certain issues like I often come to Asha for questions about disabilities that I necessarily don’t have but she has like autism, for example. I will ask her questions about how I should approach issues related to autism or just wanting to learn more? And she has often asked me questions about cerebral palsy as well, so we learn from each other. One of the things that I got involved with when I first figured out about Able, and what they do, after I started volunteering here, was a social media campaign called HireMeSC. It’s a social media campaign run by the South Carolina Disability Employment Coalition. And what people can do is post selfies of themselves with the hashtag HireMeSC on any website, like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter and talk about their employment experiences, what they want employers to know about employing people with disabilities, their experiences with employment, employment discrimination, their dreams about their careers or dream jobs with that hashtag.

I’ve done it a couple of times, Asha has done it. We even have billboards across the state with our faces and the ire HireMeSC logo.

A: I actually got contacted by one of my cousins who almost swerved off the road ’cause they saw my face on one of those billboards.

But it shows that the message is getting out there all across South Carolina. And I really think that it’s helping breaking down some of those misconceptions that people with disabilities aren’t necessarily looking for work or that’s not something necessarily attainable for them because it is, and we know that one of the best options for people, the option we should be looking for people with disabilities, just like everyone else is to be able to have gainful employment when they come to that age.

And I really think that HireMeSC is doing a great job of getting that message out there. There’s even a website.

J: It is HireMeSC.org. “