Webinar Recap: Exploring Equity in the Disability World
Central Texas nonprofit leaders shared their vision for a more equitable world for people living with disabilities, helping us to better understand the most impactful ways to provide support.
Moderating the panel was Drew Wilborn, Executive Pastor, Antioch Fellowship M.B.C in Dallas.; Board Member, Disability Rights Texas; and Board Member, Down Syndrome Guild of Dallas. Panelists included:
Chelsea Elliott, Founder & Executive Director, half Helen Foundation
Celia Hughes, Executive Director, Art Spark Texas
Dr. Mary Van Haneghan, CEO, The Arc of the Capital Area
Drew asked the panelists to identify “one thing they hope to shine a light on” in this webinar.
Dr. Mary – To increase overall awareness. Don’t judge a book by its cover.
Celia – Help people be more confident and assured when speaking to people with disabilities and also in advocating for services for them.
Chelsea – Just because we are differently-abled, we are not helpless. We want independence.
Drew then suggested “let’s talk about what equity means to you.”
Dr. Mary shared the example of a cartoon well-known as an illustration of equality vs equity.
Celia’s answer began with one word: accommodation. Are there changes we have to make? To lower the fence (using the cartoon example)? Make changes that allow everyone to engage and participate at the level most comfortable to them. This does not fundamentally alter a situation, merely allows multiple points of entry.
Drew suggested, “it’s a mindset. In some ways we are different but in so many ways we are the same.”
Chelsea called attention to the assumption of helplessness. “Let me choose where I am most comfortable.”
Drew asked the panelists to suggest ways that members can create awareness and support for differently-abled people.
Celia asked us to understand that there is an able-bodied mindset that many programs are unconsciously based on. She urged us to pay attention to society, programs, and built environments that are created for fully-abled people. Listen to those with disabilities. Hear what they’re asking for in terms of support. It’s easy to make slight adaptations for a more equitable world. The examples of curb-cuts and automatically-opening doors were discussed. We ALL benefit from these and now don't question their existence.
Dr. Mary suggested changes in terminology because “descriptions and language matter.” Rather than a person IS or a person HAS, a person “experiences.” There is discussion of “differently abled.” Sometimes we are afraid to ask about the words we should use.
Chelsea added that the word “disabled” irritates her. She prefers “differently abled.” That’s what her experience is.
Celia added that there is a complex conversation within the disability community when it comes to language. Some prefer people-first language (John with ____ condition or John lives with _____). Others are taking back the word “disabled.”
Drew shifted the conversation to challenges that the pandemic presented to our panelists’ organizations and services.
Chelsea/half Helen provides vision screenings but realized they could do more. Thus half Helen is about to introduce a mobile vision clinic, a tiny house on wheels that takes vision services to students. She sees a growing need to correct refractive error. At-home learning has meant more screen time for kids, which increases problems with refractive errors in vision. But another challenge is finding the kids! Kids don’t want to wear glasses!
Mary/ARC – Their population is vulnerable to isolation, to understanding WHY the isolation was made necessary by the pandemic. Anxiety and depression can be even stronger than before. Many clients lack cell phones/tablets/laptops for virtual connections. Some lack internet bandwidth. Others have issues with transportation and/or reliable people to accompany them. ARC necessarily shifted to virtual services within two weeks of lockdown. This meant training clients remotely in learning to use virtual services, another challenge. But they learned something: some people prefer remote services. So, going forward, the organization is challenged again to continue some sort of virtual services and also satellite services. Mary also addressed the “big cliff” that awaits students with intellectual disabilities or developmental disabilities as they transition from secondary school. They need a next place to go, grow, and learn so that their parents can get back to work.
Celia – With lockdown and social distancing, how do we serve everyone, meet their needs, and create an equitable experience? Access to technology is an equity issue! Older clients may lack technology skills or broadband access. We don’t want to leave anyone behind.
Drew asked the panelists to share resources helpful for public awareness as it supports their clients. Suggestions included:
How can Impact Austin members practice effective allyship?
Celia – Put access and accommodation as a priority in funding. Ask, “how are you serving people with disabilities?” Make it something that nonprofit organizations think about.
Chelsea – Become involved with an organization. Also, ask before assuming someone needs your help.
Mary – Consider neurodiversity as a funding lens
The webinar closed with an invitation to Impact Austin members to join the DEIB Committee. Learning events like this are part of the committee’s work.
Stay tuned for more Equity webinars!
July 15 – Exploring the Spectrum of Age Bias
October 16 – Equity Affecting Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation