By Sandy Ho
The upcoming Disability & Intersectionality Summit (DIS) happening Saturday October 13th in Cambridge, MA began as an idea in response to the question “but how can we be centered in our own community?” From past social movements led by marginalized communities it did not take long to realize it would require ‘we’ to center ourselves. The ‘we’ in this particular context being disabled people of color, and marginalized disabled people.
Organizing, scheming, rabble-rousing – whatever name we give this work, is work that happens wildly in bits and pieces then suddenly in what seems like leaps and gains. It is stop-and-go, it is outward exertion, demanding of accountability, much internal re-examination, and a relentless dissatisfaction with the status quo.
None of this can be accomplished alone. The interactions I am afforded among DIS co-organizers is where my activism experiences is most privileged.
Here’s an interview with Holly Pearson and Lydia X. Z. Brown, two individuals on the DIS Steering Committee whom I have the privilege of working on DIS 2018.
Why did you decide to become involved as an organizer for DIS?
Holly: I was blown away from last year’s conference as it was an amazing space that was created by a number of awesome individuals. The pedagogy and approach to the conference was greatly appreciated as it not only created a space for dialogue around intersectionality, but it also implemented and upheld intersectional praxis across all the layers from the moment of planning to the actual event to the aftereffects of the event. When the opportunity was provided to be a part of this endeavor, I was happy to be a part of the effort.
Lydia: For many years, I have wanted to collaborate to organize a workshop-based retreat/conference, bringing together disability activism, disability culture, disability policy, and disability studies all in one place, with a focus on intersectionality. When Sandy contacted a group of organizers about DIS, I leaped at the opportunity to be part of making that dream happen alongside many fantastic folks.
How has intersectionality been present in your activist and or professional life?
Holly: My scholarship, sense of being, and pedagogy is built around intersectionality. I spend my life shifting to match my surroundings to the best of my abilities. It’s similar to persistently switching masks and body language. As a result, it created a sense of being an oddball in society, always never quite fitting in anywhere. To understand and to write about what I call the pedagogy of oddballness, intersectionality helped me understand this sense of disconnect, fluidity, and the importance of seeing the person and our surroundings from a holistic lens as a complex multidimensional being rather than being reduced to a singular construct. Intersectionality is heavily situated within my work as I address and strive towards shifting institutional culture around disability as intersectional diversity.
Lydia: I’m a multiply-disabled autistic person, and I am also proudly queer as asexual and agender/non-binary, as well as a Chinese American, East Asian person of color, transracially and transnationally adopted by a white family in the U.S., where I grew up with a mixed-class upbringing. I am also immensely privileged as a citizen with access to middle and upper-middle class resources, currently in law school, light-skinned and often white-adjacent, and temporarily sighted, hearing, and mostly able-bodied. All of my experiences derive from multiple identities — both marginalized and privileged ones — and ignoring intersectionality is denying my own lived realities. In disability spaces, I am often the only person of color or openly queer or trans person; in spaces centered around other marginal identities, I am often the only out disabled person. That forces me to constantly expend emotional labor naming my existence and the worth of my communities.
What is the impact you would like DIS to have in our upcoming event?
Holly: It is not my place to determine or to indicate what kind of impact I would like DIS to have on our upcoming event as engagement rarely involves one outcome, but instead, it involves “ripples.” Instead, I am curious in learning from the folks involved what were the takeaways.
Lydia: I hope this event will bring together folks in disability spaces who may not often or already work together, and spur more opportunities for connection, collaboration, and collective work!
What do you see as the role of DIS within the larger disability community?
Holly: DIS is a space by disabled bodies with disabled bodies, which says volumes to the larger disability community of the possibilities. This is not to ignore the reality of disabled bodies across all spectrums, but to illustrate that you are not alone as there are pockets of communities, such as DIS.
Lydia: This is a space to connect with fellow disabled people at multiple margins, and to bridge different disability spaces — activism, culture, art, advocacy, organizing.
What are you most looking forward to on October 13th?
Holly: Learning from everyone’s experiences, insights, and narratives. It’s rare to have a space where multiply marginalized folks’ experience a sense of “access intimacy” (Mia Mingus).
Lydia: I am excited to reconnect with friends and comrades I’ve already known, but even more excited to meet folks I haven’t yet had the honor to learn from and share space with.
Holly Pearson, Hailing from Alaska Holly Pearson is a deaf/hard-of-hearing Korean Adoptee female who grew up communicating via American Sign Language and spoken English. Stumbling upon the realm of disability studies and disability justice, she is passionate about structuring spaces around disrupting institutional culture, critically reexamining the disconnect between disability and diversity, and embedding humanity within higher education spaces. Stemming from her scholarship and personal experiences, as a co-organizer, she is excited to be part of the Disability Intersectionality Summit due to mutual understanding and respect of structuring spaces for multiply-marginalized bodies and their lived experiences. Presently, she is a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Sociology department at Framingham State University.
Lydia X.Z. Brown, is a disability justice advocate, organizer, and writer whose work has largely focused on violence against multiply-marginalized disabled people, especially institutionalization, incarceration, and policing. They have worked to advance transformative change through organizing in the streets, writing legislation, conducting anti-ableism workshops, testifying at regulatory and policy hearings, and disrupting institutional complacency everywhere from the academy to state agencies and the nonprofit-industrial complex. At present, Lydia serves as founding board member of the Alliance for Citizen-Directed Services, stakeholder representative to the Massachusetts One Care Implementation Council overseeing health care for Medicaid/Medicare dually-eligible individuals, and board member of the Autism Women’s Network. Lydia recently completed a term as Chairperson of the Massachusetts Developmental Disabilities Council, serving in that role from 2015 to 2017 as the youngest appointee nationally to chair any state developmental disabilities council. In collaboration with E. Ashkenazy and Morénike Giwa-Onaiwu, Lydia is the lead editor and visionary behind All the Weight of Our Dreams, the first-ever anthology of writings and artwork by autistic people of color, published by the Autism Women’s Network in June 2017.
Sandy Ho, is a disabled Asian-American queer woman from Massachusetts. She is the founder of the Disability & Intersectionality Summit. Twitter: @intersectedcrip