By Ryan Geddie, Government Relations Specialist
This year, I had the honor of being selected as a participant in the 2023 Association of Programs for Rural Independent Living “Lead On” Collaborative. This program, in addition to being an excellent lesson in the philosophy of the Independent Living Movement and the history of the Disability Rights Movement, participation in the “Lead On” program gave me the opportunity to connect and interact with a number of talented young people with disabilities passionate about the cause of independent living.
The National Council on Independent Living describes the philosophy of the Independent Living Movement as one that “emphasizes consumer control, the idea that people with disabilities are the best experts on their own needs, having crucial and valuable perspective to contribute and deserving of equal opportunity to decide how to live, work, and take part in their communities, particularly in reference to services that powerfully affect their day-to-day lives and access to independence.” Evidence of this philosophy in action was all over the 2023 APRIL Conference, with each event of piece of programming having multiple options available to further the goal of accessibility, including American Sign Language interpreters and live captioning projected on screens easily visible to audiences.
One challenge that we run into as people with disabilities is opposition to accommodation based on a misconception that accommodations for people with disabilities must necessarily, in some way make life more difficult for people without disabilities. The 2023 APRIL Conference, by seamlessly integrating accommodations through the conference, serves as a strong counterpoint to that idea. By weaving accommodations into the foundations of the event, the experience was really improved for everyone. ASL-designated seating, for example, made the process of seating easier by ensuring that those who needed interpreters had the ability to easily see them. Live Captioning was useful for everyone, especially when speakers were on occasion unclear, speaking quietly, or not speaking directly into the microphone.
While at the conference, I had the opportunity to lead a discussion among other young people with disabilities about systems change advocacy, the type of advocacy that focuses on changing structures, laws, and institutions. One attendee commented, after the discussion had ended, about how intertwined advocacy was into most aspects of life with a disability. We advocate when we go to the doctor, we advocate when we go to school, we advocate at our jobs, and we advocate when we want to get out in the community.
I think, above all, what this Conference gave me was a renewed awareness of how important it is to be an effective advocate, not just at the institutional level, like I do for my job at the Amputee Coalition, but also for the amelioration of those day-to-day injustices that prevent people with disabilities from living how we would like to live.