I stare at the word “Inbox” on the first tab on my computer screen. Maybe if I concentrate hard enough, I can make a (1) pop up next to it. Momentarily trying to believe in the power of prayer, I hope that my willpower can make somebody respond to my emails. But deep down, I know that my concentration is not going to make the person on the other end care to respond, or even to open my email. This has been a constant frustration I have faced since last summer, when I first started writing others about disability rights issues.
Bringing greater visibility to disability rights is not an easy task, and I know I’m certainly not the only person working on this issue. I try to do my part as much as possible, both for my community and myself. With regard to my community, I write a number of outlets — media outlets, think tanks, politicians — to ask questions. Will you include disability as a news topic or a policy area, can you help bring greater visibility to disability news, or can you help us figure out how to create a network for workers with disabilities? For myself, it’s questions about how to make my passion for disability employment a long-term career. How can I move this from a free-time passion to a day job, especially when it seems like there’s no clear path for how to make my dream into a sustainable reality?
In recent weeks, I’ve sent more letters than I can count: letters to think tanks asking them to recognize disability rights as a policy area; inquiries to career advisors on addressing disability workplace issues; letters to presidential campaigns asking them to include disability in their platforms; and letters to disability organizations asking for their opinions on gaps in web-based career resources for workers with disabilities. The best I’m expecting from these are a form letter or a generic rejection. Most inquiries never receive a response. This frustrating and crushing silence makes even the form letters greatly appreciated: a generic rejection is better than ambiguity.
Sometimes, I question whether what I am doing is too different. On the one hand, asking others to devote greater recognition to disability as a research area or news topic requires more resources, effort and planning on their parts. If they are not familiar with disability topics, it takes a willingness to learn about subjects that might be uncomfortable and complex. On the other hand, since people with disabilities constitute the world’s largest minority, it is appalling that we are so underrepresented. When faced with the sheer number of people with disabilities, as well as the fact that anybody, at any time, could become a part of this group, people and organizations should want to appeal to this demographic. We can represent a massive amount of media viewership, act as a significant voting bloc, and be a significant resource in the workforce.
It is even more disheartening when disability organizations ignore their own. It seems like some organizations that are devoted to this cause are often so accustomed to their own ways and processes that they are resistant to outsiders and change. They may say that their organization is successful, but if they refuse to open up to new ideas and evolution, they are limiting their potential for success. Working for disability rights should be a collaborative experience, but so many of these organizations seemingly refuse to collaborate and expand. Perhaps this resistance to change factors into why disability rights is less visible than other social justice movements.
As fruitless as this advocacy feels sometimes, I have resolved not to give up. I know that change is possible, and I have experienced it. A letter to a career advisor led me to start writing for The Huffington Post. Blogging on HuffPost gave me the opportunity to connect with their staff and to petition for a disability content page, which they are now creating. I’ve contacted and been contacted by multiple people and businesses wanting to incorporate disability into their products, websites or services. I’ve connected with a number of passionate disability advocates and learned from their unique experiences, and in the process I have made new friends. When I reflect on these victories, I know that my advocacy is not fruitless. I may send out 10 emails in a day, but maybe one will get a response, and maybe that response will create change.
I will not stop my advocacy, as frustrating as the rejection and silence can get. I will continue to fight for greater recognition of the disability community in every way, because I believe that this is an extremely important goal. But while I do this, could somebody please respond to my emails?