I’m personally thrilled to interview a good friend of mine, Sandy Ho. Please check out the Disability and Intersectionality Summit that she’s organizing in Boston later this year on November 5, 2016! –Alice
Tell me a little about yourself and your background as a disability advocate.
Sandy: I’m a queer Asian American woman who is a wheelchair user with Osteogenesis Imperfecta (O.I.), and I am also someone who is hard of hearing. I was born, raised, and educated in Massachusetts. My introduction into disability advocacy stemmed from a blog I had 5 or 6 years ago where I reflected on growing-up with O.I. as the sole representative of disability within my family. As I wrote more about my own experiences I connected with other folks with O.I., but it was really when I began asking more probing questions that usually began with “why?” and “how come?” that my curiosity around disability led me to a whole constellation of disability advocates who helped me connect the dots to figure out some of my own answers. My experiences as a young person trying to figure out where she belonged within the larger disability community naturally led me to get involved around advocacy efforts for other disabled young women. I got involved with the Thrive Mentoring Program, and my work around mentorship for disabled young women was really where and when I began to consider myself a disability advocate.
I first learned about you through your Letters to Thrive tumblr that I absolutely love. You were kind enough to re-publish a letter of mine. One thing that excited me is that you are another Asian American disabled woman who is proud of all her identities. Do you ever feel that way when you meet other disabled women of color?
Sandy: Thank you for letting me republish that letter! And absolutely! It wasn’t until I first came across you, and your openness to be a collaborator, ‘older sister’, supporter, and co-schemer that I honestly didn’t even realize what had been absent from my understanding of disability. It took a lot of exposure to multiple identities within the disability community for me to begin to feel comfortable engaging in disability justice work. And as frustrating, draining, and head-against-the-wall-banging that work can sometimes be – it is a place where I know I can also recharge and always be proud because of the people I know I’m surrounded by be it in physical body, or in the work they’re doing. Sometimes I come across articles that talk about how women in the work place need to be encouraged to “lean in” or “speak up” etc etc. But the disabled women of color that I know? We *are* the ones who tend to be making the most noise, looking after one another, facilitating connections, teaching, sounding the bullshit alarm, or sticking their necks out.
Why is it important that Asian Pacific Americans w/ disabilities connect with one another? What’s missing in terms of the disability community and diverse populations?
Sandy: It’s important that we connect with one another because if we don’t we won’t know what we are missing, or who we are leaving behind. And since Asian Pacific Americans are one of the fastest-growing populations in the U.S. alone, it stands to reason that those with disabilities in this community should not only be out front and center within the APA community, but also those who are leading the conversations in connecting with other marginalized communities as well. If we can’t find solidarity, action, support, and mobility among each other – then it’s going to be doubly more of a challenge to get any political, social, economic, and other objectives met.
What does intersectionality mean to you? Why is it important to have an intersectional approach with every type of community organizing/movement building?
Sandy: Intersectionality means the consideration and acceptance of every facet of a person’s identity, and existence. Whether that’s race, gender, class, sexual preference, sexual identity, disability, or immigration status – the point of intersectionality is not just to understand where and how an individual came to their experiences, but the question of “why?” Because when we ask the question “why” in the context of intersectionality, I think that’s when the excitement, the work, the action, and the justice work begins to fall into place. It’s important to have an intersectional approach with every type of movement building because no type of justice work can be done if we approach building movements in a vacuum. Movements and communities involve people, people are complex and it’s not a complexity that needs to be apologized, hidden, or ashamed about. It’s a complexity that we have the responsibility to address and understand; I think it’s critical that intersectionality is utilized to preserve the health of any community and society.
You are the organizer of the Disability & Intersectionality Summit which will be held in Boston on November 5, 2016. How did you come up with the idea and what were the challenges in getting this conference up and running?
Sandy: I am but one of the organizers! I think it’s important to note that I’m not doing this alone, and more importantly I have a steering committee of all disabled advocates who include yourself from CA, Maryland, NY, and D.C. I came up with this idea because I was a bit tired of watching TED talks that featured disabled people who were primarily white, upper middle class, and many of them spoke from that same “over coming” or “adapting” disability narrative that is very limiting. It is also not very helpful that TED markets itself as “ideas worth spreading” but at least when it comes to the disability narratives that are predominantly on their platform, it’s not the only idea worth spreading when it comes to disability experiences. So I asked myself what is missing from the disability narrative. It wasn’t hard for me to figure out because the answers were so blatantly obvious! Disabled people of color, those of various sexual identities and preferences, disabled people of various immigrant status, people with the types of disabilities who are not traditionally given a stage to speak from, disabled immigrants, older folks and youth with disabilities, etc etc. One of the challenges was the uncertainty of the idea to begin with. I have had this idea for at least a year before I put it into action and set out a needs assessment to the larger community. I didn’t know if this was an event that would be needed? I didn’t know if it was an event that would be received well? I didn’t know if it was something that would just be redundant? And I didn’t know if this was an event that already existed in some other way. So, it goes to show I think, that while I consider myself to know a lot of fellow advocates who are of multiply marginalized identities and talk / write / present on intersectionality, I still am not exposed to many opportunities or events that are bringing folks together for the purpose of discussing, and exploring disability and intersectionality.
What’s the response like so far from the disability community? What kinds of presentations and topics are people submitting? How are you working on outreach to multiple communities?
Sandy: Nothing but enthusiasm! I…know that the number of proposals submitted is 21 as of the last time I checked. I want to wait before I see the proposals submitted until we review them all together with the rest of the steering committee.
I was honestly shocked by the excitement the summit has generated on Facebook, Twitter, sharing it on email list-serves, word of mouth, and in-person meetings! One of my favorite aspects of event coordination is meeting all of the people who are interested, those want to collaborate, and others who want to engage and are curious to learn more. I’m trying my best to be open to answering anyone’s questions, but I’m also relying on my steering committee to get the word out to their own communities as well!
Are there certain groups, issues, and types of presentations that you haven’t seen yet that you’re hoping to see?
Sandy: I guess not having seen any of the proposals yet I can’t really answer this question. But I do hope that people also see this as not just an opportunity to educate and speak to the general public, but also to the larger disability community. I think there’s a lot that our own disability community needs to work on within itself and sometimes when we are so busy trying to change perceptions “out there” we may forget we can also learn from each other. So I hope that people who are submitting proposals also keep that in mind too!
Tell me about the art exhibit that is part of the summit–why did you decide to include artwork by disabled artists?
Sandy: In the many conversations I have had with people about this event, one of the things I’ve learned is what intersectionality is. People have different ideas and understandings about it. Some of them I have learned from, and others I have hopefully tried to expand upon. But the point is that intersectionality can be a difficult concept to define, and interpret, and understand. There’s so many ways to express an idea or an experience – and if that’s what the stage for speakers will be about, then I also want to bring that stage and opportunity to disabled artists! The art exhibit is in collaboration with VSA MA, and we are accepting artwork (2D and multimedia formats) from disabled artists who can express intersectionality through an artistic medium. The exhibit will be running from September 1st – November 12th.
What’s your timeline like this fall as the summit approaches? What kinds of preparations are you working on this summer for this event?
Sandy: Right now I’m doing a lot of outreach whether it’s for funding, or potential speakers who want to know more about the summit. And looking ahead towards the summer I’m going to be focusing more on envisioning what the actual speaker program will be like, and coming up with a rubric for how the steering committee will evaluate the speaker proposals to choose our final speakers! We will also be evaluating the art submissions that will be going into the art exhibit. I’m really excited about this experience because I have never curated an art gallery before, but I can’t wait to start the discussion and learn from them when it comes to art work and intersectionality.
What are some ways you are ensuring this event will be as accessible as possible? If there are people who want to participate or view presentations, is there going to be a live-stream available?
Sandy: We will have ASL and CART present. We also want to keep in mind financial barriers and will have tickets be on a sliding scale of some amount (stay tuned for more info on that!) We will also have the talks video taped to be streamed online for folks who are not able to be participants in person.
Anything else you’d like to share with me about the Summit?
Sandy: I’m eager and anxious for this event! Eager because I know that the disability community will not disappoint me in what we bring to the table for this event. I am anxious because while I do have an idea and vision in my mind, I am also aware that I have to allow this event to take the shape it needs to take, which may not be what I initially had in mind. I want this to be an event and experience that multiply marginalized people in the disability community can look to and say something like “I see myself in this program of speakers.” If one person can say that after this event, I’ll have accomplished what I had envisioned.
Disability & Intersectionality Summit: Call for Proposals (Deadline September 1, 2016)
Disability & Intersectionality Summit:Call for Art (Deadline July 1, 2016)