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Q&A: Ingrid Tischer, Director of Development, DREDF

I had the good fortune to interview Ingrid Tischer a few days ago for the Disability Visibility Project. Ingrid has been a friend of mine for about 14 years and one of the most articulate people I know about disability and disability rights. Our interview flew by and I ended up asking only 2 of my interview questions! Below is a Q&A with Ingrid including some questions I meant to ask her.

Image of a dim room with two people facing each other, with their fists bumping together. A white woman in a wheelchair is on the left and an Asian-American woman in a wheelchair is on the right.
Fist-bumping during our interview at StoryCorps San Francisco! Left: Ingrid Tischer, Director of Development, DREDF. Right: Alice Wong, Head Honcho, Disability Visibility Project.

In your lifetime so far, what have you observed when it comes to disability rights in the U.S.? Societal attitudes toward disability? Changes in the disability community?

When I started preschool in 1968, there was no legal mandate that children with disabilities receive a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). I was “handicapped.” I needed “care.” At home, in school, at my part-time jobs, I was pretty much the only out person with a disability. Sometimes there was the unpleasant combination of gender + disability — my parents’ had to deal with a neighbor, for example, who was critical of their letting me go to the town library, like my brother was. Growing up, there were 2-3 other students with visible disabilities in my schools but contact was minimal. When I went away to my university in the 80s, my physical access needs were mine (and my family’s) to identify and deal with. I was still the only out person with a disability in my environment but college was where I made friends who were gay, I think in part because of a shared feeling of profound but unspeakable difference, plus the whole notion of being “cured.”

The most basic change, in my experience, is that disability became a political identity, in addition to a purely individual trait. Disability came to be associated with “rights” and “community.”

I know that you work for a disability rights organization. Please tell me a little more about the current work you do and why you are drawn to this work.

I help raise money for DREDF and handle public information. I’m drawn to this work because both are parts of community organizing that aren’t too physically demanding for me. Given that I also used to be an HIV test counselor, I seem to enjoy discussing taboo subjects – sex and money. I always wanted to do civil rights-related work, and question both authority and people’s unconsidered assumptions about power, strength, and worth.

Since this week is the 24th anniversary of the ADA, how has this landmark piece of legislation affected your life?

It’s connected me to people with disabilities. Which clearly I needed because I was living in DC in 1990, was politically aware, and still somehow missed the whole thing. The ADA’s passage – again, this my opinion based on age, etc. – externalized on a national level what had been a largely private and medical experience. It was by no means the first disability rights law but it was a law that granted a common identity to a vast and often isolated group of people. It created a constituency that, however diverse and at times at odds within – had a name. People chafe at labels but I think we all know how powerful it is to have a name.

The struggle for disability rights certainly wasn’t over after the passage of the ADA. What are some of the most critical issues facing people with disabilities in 2014 from your perspective?

I consider the beginning and end of life to present the most critical issues facing people with disabilities because they address the most fundamental of questions, “Shall this person live?” “Is this human being a person?” And my personal favorite: “Are disabled people really the cost-effective choice when you’re trying to get the most out of your personhood dollar?”

26 years from now, when people are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the ADA, what improvements and changes do you foresee or hope for people w/ disabilities?

As a fundraiser with a disability, I hope that “charity” and “disability” are no longer associated because “justice” and “disability” are so entwined. I hope people with disabilities are understood less as medical problems and more as human beings who are vulnerable to being excluded.


About Ingrid Tischer

Ingrid Tischer became DREDF’s Director of Development in 2011. She’s been a Bay Area-based fundraiser, non–profit manager and activist for nearly 20 years. Her staff and consulting work has supported free healthcare services, human and environmental health policy, gender and LGBT anti-discrimination, employment civil rights, and disability rights. She got her start in 1992 in a grassroots women’s clinic before moving on to cutting–edge advocacy organizations Breast Cancer Action, Equal Rights Advocates and the Legal Aid Society – Employment Law Center. Her media advocacy experience has involved working in coalition with the Labor Project for Working Families, MomsRising and The Impact Fund. She has served on the Women’s Community Clinic Advisory Board, is an alumna of the Women’s Health Leadership (WHL) Program for emerging women healthcare leaders, and has been a faculty member of the California Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) program. Her writing has appeared in The Progressive, Ragged Edge, off our backs, and other outlets. She holds a B.A. in Philosophy from The American University in Washington, D.C.

About Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF)


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