This week Disability Lead, of which I am a member, began a campaign I/we #LeadWithDisability.
So, I have decided to devote this post to answering the question of why I lead with disability and why I advocate for disabled representation. To me, the answer seems obvious; but after serving in lay leadership positions in my community for over 30 years and never seeing anyone beside me with a disability in leadership roles, I have learned that it is not obvious even when we are talking about DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion). I have been in webinars and conversations about DEI with other lay leaders, and it never ceases to surprise me when disabled representation isn’t discussed (until, of course, I bring it up).
I lead with disability because I firmly believe that in a truly inclusive society, disabled people should have a seat at the tables of power and influence, and not just when it comes to issues directly related to disability, although let me say from the outset when the issues are specific to disability issues and people with disabilities there shouldn’t even be a question of representation by the very people who have the lived experience. This is essential because disabled individuals possess valuable perspectives and experiences that can contribute to decision-making processes in all areas of society. By including disabled people in positions of power and influence, we can ensure that policies, practices, and decisions consider the diverse needs of our communities, including people with disabilities. Only by hearing firsthand accounts can we fully understand the barriers, challenges, and discrimination faced by disabled individuals, enabling us to develop effective solutions that promote inclusivity.
Moreover, disabled representation in positions of power has the power to challenge long-standing stereotypes and misconceptions about disability. When disabled individuals hold influential roles, they become living examples of capability, strength, and resilience, breaking down preconceived notions about the limitations of disability. This representation helps society recognize the potential and contributions of disabled individuals across all aspects of communal life, shifting perceptions and promoting equality.
Equal representation at the tables of power and influence is crucial for ensuring equal opportunities for all. When disabled individuals are actively involved in decision-making processes, policies can be designed to eliminate systemic barriers and provide necessary support and accommodations. By promoting accessibility and inclusivity, we can empower disabled individuals to fully participate and contribute their talents in various fields, including politics, education, business, and the arts.
Disabled individuals in positions of power also have a unique opportunity to advocate for legislative changes that address the needs and rights of the disabled community. They can shape policies that promote accessibility, healthcare, education, employment, and social inclusion. Through their active participation in the creation and implementation of legislation, disabled representatives can champion disability rights and dismantle discriminatory practices that impede progress.
Representation matters, and disabled individuals in positions of power can inspire future generations to aspire to greatness and overcome obstacles. When young people see individuals with disabilities in influential roles, it sends a powerful message: disability does not define one's capabilities or limit their potential for success. This representation encourages young disabled individuals to pursue their aspirations with confidence, knowing that they too can aim for positions of power and make a difference in the world.
Embracing disabled representation at the tables of power and influence is not just a matter of fairness; it is a necessity for building an inclusive society. Disabled individuals bring unique experiences, perspectives, and talents that enrich our communities. By actively involving them in decision-making processes, we can create a society that truly reflects the diversity of its population.
It is time to recognize the imperative of disabled representation and ensure that no voice is left unheard or unrepresented in our quest for a more inclusive future.
- Michelle Friedman