Yesterday, I spent the day driving between Austin and Houston to visit the Center for Research on Women with Disabilities (CROWD) and to spend the afternoon at the home of its director, Peg Nosek. Frankly, the day was pretty much an explosion of feminist disability rights energy. Many thanks to Peg, Susan, Cathy, Martha, Maria and Miki!
The first part of the visit was spent discussing how to pull together a feminist disability policy agenda with the CROWD people. This is a topic that will be ongoing through my visits to other organizations as well. For the last 15 years, CROWD has done research on women with physical disabilities and is basically about bursting to get that info in the hands of women with disabilities to use for change. If you are at all interested in CROWD's work, call them up!
For the policy meeting, we spent time identifying the following people:
Mover and Shaker Sistas
DC Area Folks
"More People"---I think we just kept brainstorming ourselves silly
Then, we thought about areas to include under a policy agenda... Why is this imrportant, you ask? As Peg said, “Women with disabilities are the litmus test for health care reform.” I might add: the inclusion, integration and affirmation of women with disabilities and Deaf women are the litmus test for anything.
Health Care Reform (HR676) (this was a VERY VERY hot issue)
Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault
Self-Image & Self-esteem
Marriage & Divorce / Legal Issues / SSI
Same Sex Rights
Minority Rights Issues
Gender Roles / Gender Expectations
Disability Feminism awareness raising
Youth and young adult issues
Dealing with Parents
Employment / Work Disincentives
Then we began thinking of strategies....
Train the trainers- health care advocacy, national health reforms, universal coverage, HR 676- insurance, speaking, grants?
Legislation, speak-outs, rallies, demonstrations, vigils
Get policy statements, documents in access issues, what are the commitments?
Women with disabilities & the arts, involve the creative women, artist-activists
People pointed out that there are two main questions. What is the policy and what specifically needs to change? For example, women are so disproportionally affected by work DISincentives that on a national level, we need to lobby and get changes to empower women with disabilities to work.
Other useful points brought up included the fact that CROWD has physical disabilities focused research. For example, the abuse dynamic is very different for the woman with cognitive impairments than a women who is able mentally but not able physically to respond. Almost all the research on abuse of women with disabilities has beem focused on cognitive disabilities, regardless of gender. So different populations need to have different studies done, in order to get a sense of the picture overall for women with disabilities and Deaf women.
At this point, we had to end the meeting due to time constraints, but the fabulous Maria Palacios read us her poem for Frida Kahlo (she does impersonations of Frida and has also performed with Sins Invalid). Here is part of the poem (Maria, my camcorder didn't record this right!!):
And your art
speaks my language
me habla de tus tristezas
it talks about your sadness.
It talks about the two of you,
the two of us
the Two Fridas you painted
the double life
all women live
we always split
ourselves in half...
I know what it's like to be you.
Not many people do.
But I do.
Here is a link to a video about the start of Sins Invalid: see video here.
Afterwards, I went with Peg to her home and discussed avenues of working on feminist disability rights in the US. I also ate dinner with Peg, Perla, the tutor and the kids---thank you all for letting me share that part of your life. Peg also clued me into something going on in the virtual world...there is a program called Second Life, www.secondlife.com, which has a virtual community of women with disabilities who actually meet up online and have meetings and workshops with virtual "bodies." You can learn more at http://gimpgirl.com and you can get help with using Second Life with a disability at www.virtualability.org. Women from all over the world participate in this virtual community, which has a "place" with a store and a dance floor and a swimming pool that you can manipulatethe virtual "you" to use. This is a pretty fabulous avenue for women who can't get out of the home much but have access to high speed internet. Power on over and learn more!
Hmmm....how can we use virtual communities to teach and organize women with disabilities?!?!?!
What I realized at CROWD was this:
---this center has a lot of woemn with a LOT of experience on women with disabilities issues, and they really want to ORGANIZE
---they have a national network of women with disabilities who are concerned about various issues
---they recognize different sectors of the disability community and the policy wonks
---they are very very passionate (okay, CROWD talked a lot! but in a very good way, smile)
---collectively the staff has a lot of savvy, and if we want to build a feminist disability rights movement, we need people like the folks at CROWD.
Also, personally, Peg asked me what my personal vision was for the feminist disability rights movement. Funny how that question is hard to answer and how much in development that vision still is. I suppose my answer for now is: I want to see social change for women with disabilities and Deaf women led by and for women with disabilities and Deaf women. I want us to craft our choices, our power, and our independence. I want to see our community in the US become an innovator for feminist change. And I want us all to know that we are not alone, that we are sisters in this together. Peg mentioned that she would like to see a place, of some kind, where all of this happens, and I would agree with her that that would be fabulous. I think my answer, in short, is that I want us to kick some powerful ass---through change and through community.