Earlier, the Disability Visibility Project published a blog post featuring an interview of Ken Stein by his wife Ingrid Tischer. Alice Wong, Project Coordinator of the DVP interviewed Ingrid at StoryCorps San Francisco on July 24, 2014.
This is the last of three posts containing approximate excerpts from their conversation.
Connection between disability rights and civil rights
Ingrid: You mentioned being self-hating earlier.
Ingrid: I’m not gonna pretend like… that hate doesn’t exist in me, because of course it does, but I think that there’s another side to it that deserves a fair amount of attention. And you kind of touched on it, too, just now with your question. The performative thing. You know, by the time I went to college and when I was in college yeah, whenever people talk to me like, well you know, “Do you think of yourself as disabled?” I’d be like well, “I guess yeah, but I don’t think about it that much.” Well, it’s like, cause at the time I was, I’ve always wanting to pursue career in civil rights in some capacity. I never really [COUGH] sadly, made the connection [between] disabilities and civil rights…
If younger people, for example, aren’t told about the civil rights history related to the disability identity, then I think frankly it becomes a whole different animal to accept.
Alice: Right, yeah, and it’s a political identity… in addition to cultural and individual identity.
Ingrid: I think, you know, pretty much when people think of disability rights, if they think kindly of it or whatever…I still think they think of it largely as something I support because somebody I care about will be benefited by it…If we can, if I can look at it more or less as a jumping off point for serving the wider community, you know, ‘cuz frankly, I think most of the things that the disability community wants allegedly just for itself, really. Make a better world for everybody because everybody is vulnerable at some point. And that’s what it, that’s what disability to me is really about: vulnerability and safety.
Alice: And I’ll also say interdependence.
On culture change
Ingrid: Well, to me, disability stuff now is not so much about, “What can the movement do for me?” but “What am I gonna do with the movement for everybody else?” It’s a way of giving service.
Alice: I definitely believe [in thinking about disability] rights from not just the individual, but from the system level and really, at an institutional level. And real culture change, that’s the toughest part, I think, is making people understand…that’s the harder road to take. Right?
Ingrid: We have to be Crip evangelists.
Alice: And heal ourselves?
Ingrid: No, we have to spread the Gospel of living as a Crip.
Alice: And then we should heal, heal the non-disabled and let them see…
Ingrid: Share the goodness.
Alice: The error of their ways…
Ingrid: Although we are going to convert you…
Alice: Yes, this is part of the plan.
Ingrid: This is assimilation.
Alice: Thank you Library of Congress for letting us infiltrate the system. Thank you NSA, we know you’re listening…[laughter]
Ingrid: …if you can look at what is going to make the world a safer place for anybody who is vulnerable in some way, whether because of age, or you know, extreme youth or injury or whatever, you know. That’s not just disability. That’s a bigger goal… but we have the insight, I think, into it, and the experience, because we’ve lived as people with disabilities. That’s what I mean by it.
Alice: I agree. I think we have a lot to offer and this is why I think we need to share in those views so that it helps…other people and other groups and other, you know, movements that may not even be aware of what we do and our perspective.
Advice for young people with disabilities
Ingrid: And I would just say to remember that there’s got to be something that you’re good at and better at than a lot of other people and that that’s really, I think, what gets people ahead in life is by focusing on what they’re actually good at and what they care about. And it may not be something that you’re even aware of at this moment, but the, the key is to find out what it is… Because if you like it, you’ll want to keep doing it and getting better at it and that will draw other people to you eventually.
Alice: And ignore anybody who tells you that you can’t pursue this and that you can’t do it because of your disability. There’s always a way to pursue what you want to do…I heard so many people tell us, you can’t do that, “There’s no way.” And all it takes is a real imagination and it’s really, just, you know, ingenuity, and it can be done. I think we both are people who have seen that happen.
Ingrid: I will say too, even though I’m physically more disabled now in my 40’s than say in my teens, I feel a lot less disabled now. Because the people I’m around most of the time are older people. And older people, frankly, are dealing with their own issues and they treat me differently…when we were all younger. Being a teenager was probably for me the hardest time to have a disability. And good or bad, it ends.
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.
Alice Wong is a Staff Research Associate, Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, UCSF. Alice works on various research projects for the Community Living Policy Center, a Rehabilitation Research and Training Center funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research and the Administration for Community Living. She is an author of online curricula for home care providers and caregivers for Elsevier’s College of Personal Assistance and Caregiving. Currently, she is the Project Coordinator for the Disability Visibility Project: A Community Partnership with StoryCorps and an advisory board member of APIDC, Asians and Pacific Islanders with Disabilities of California. Alice is also a Presidential appointee to the National Council on Disability, an independent federal agency charged with advising the President, Congress, and other federal agencies on disability policy.