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Understanding Ableism in the Legal Environment

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Understanding Ableism in the Legal Environment

Abelism is defined as prejudice against people who are perceived to be disabled. It consists of bias in favor people who are perceived as being typically able and it often denies or fails to recognize the unique super-capabilities of the differently-abled. How can we rid ourselves of stereotypes regarding the lesser value and or lesser capabilities of people who are not typically abled? How do we create an environment where differently-abled people are fully respected, fully valued, fully appreciated, and fully supportive? This session will answer these questions with compassion and humor.


Ama Karikari-Yawson
Milestales Publishing and Education Consulting
Nicole Saunders
Florida Supreme Court


 Welcome to today's program. I am your trainer for today, my name is Ama Karikari Yawson Esq. I am the founder of Milestales Publishing and Training. I am a diversity and inclusion trainer, speaker, and consultant. By way of background, I attended the University of Pennsylvania for law school. I also received my MBA from the Wharton School and I went to Harvard Undergrad. After graduating from law school, I worked for years at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton and then afterward I worked at Citigroup Inc in the corporate disclosure department prior to starting my own company. Today, I have a special guest. Her name is Nicole Saunders Esq. and I will have her introduce herself and give you some background, thank you. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. And we've worked together before, she has great deal of insight into ableism and advocacy for persons with disability. So I'm gonna start sharing my screen right now just to give us a little bit of the lay of the land with respect to what ableism is before we go through some questions and answers with Nicole, all right. So let's understand this topic everyone. So we've done our welcome and introduction, now we're going to actually define ableism. So ableism, the discrimination of and social prejudice against people with disabilities. This is often based on the belief that typical abilities are superior and that people with disabilities are defined by their disabilities and that they need to be fixed. They're inherently broken and need to be fixed. So like racism, sexism, and homophobia, ableism defines some people as less worthy and less valuable and it uses devastating stereotypes, misconceptions, and generalizations to perpetuate itself. So this is the classic definition of ableism. And for many years within my practice, I used this definition very happily and thought that it was accurate. But I'm actually gonna share another definition with you that I found incredibly insightful and I found it actually when I was doing a training on ableism and Nicole was one of the providers of that training. So this is a second definition that I want you to chew on please. Defining ableism as a system that places value on people's bodies and minds based on societally constructed ideas of normalcy, intelligence, and excellence. These constructed ideas of normalcy, intelligence, and excellence are deeply rooted in anti-blackness, eugenics, and capitalism. This form of systemic oppression leads to people and society determining who is valuable or worthy based on people's appearance and or their ability to satisfactorily, produce, excel, and "behave." This is by Talila A. Lewis Esq. So when I was first presented with this alternate definition, I have to be honest with you, I had to chew on it, right? Because I didn't necessarily think of ableism as being rooted in anti-blackness and capitalism, right? That was not my initial thought or my initial belief, right? Like capitalism, anti-blackness, I'm a black person who's considered typically able I didn't see that these were necessarily not just intertwined, but that it was rooted in it. But I had to then investigate and go further in order to be able to serve people as a trainer, right? I had to say to myself, "Okay, let me think about this." And in thinking about that definition, right? This definition on this page, I started becoming more convinced of its accuracy as I studied history. So let's think about some things that were formally disorders. And I hope to prove to you today that ableism is relative. What's considered a disorder is relative. So these are some form of disorders that will help to elucidate the second more expanded definition. Drapetomania may be pronouncing it wrong an enslaved African wanting to be free was considered a mental disorder. Can you imagine it was a mental disorder? And the disorder was identified by Dr. Samuel A. Cartwright in 1851. So in order to keep capitalism in place in the south, during the slave era to keep black bodies producing rum, cotton, sugarcane, whatever it is all over the world, it was considered that if an African wanted to be free to not be a chattel slave, that was a mental disorder. And this was actually considered to be true by the elites. So not being happy, not being satisfied with the capitalistic order was considered a disorder. Let's look at some other disorders, homosexuality. The APA, okay, regarded adult homosexuality as a disease, a condition deviating from normal heterosexual development. So again, these were the powers that be, right? The American Psychological Association says, this is a disorder. It's a disease. It deviates from what is normal, right? If people are homosexual, they're not having children, they're not procreating physically together which is a problem for production of human beings to work. Therefore this is a disorder. Potentially that was the thinking behind it. Another disorder from the past. Female orgasms were considered a disorder to a certain extent, please read. From the 19th to the mid 20th centuries, many psychologists inspired by Freudian Psychoanalysis argued that women should only achieve orgasm through vaginal penetration by a man. Any kind of female sexual pleasure including masturbation, queer sexuality, and any stimulation of the clitoris was considered a sign of "masculinity, imbalance, "or even insanity." I learned this from Talkspace. My, my, my, my my. So again, procreative sex between a man and a woman was privileged so that this was supposed to be the only way that women experienced a sexual peak. Anything that was not promoting that order of procreative heterosexual sex was deemed to be a disease or disorder. And now, based on what we know now about female sexuality, this seems ludicrous, right? But this was actually promoted by the mainstream. So let's think about this fact, right? Let's think about the intersectionality here and let me define intersectionality, the complex cumulative way in which the effects of multiple forms of discrimination, such as racism, sexism, ableism, and classism combine overlap or intersect especially in the experiences of historically marginalized individuals. And so for so many individuals, right? You were seen as having a disability by not being "the norm" and the norm is what leads to greater production. And this is why I think that this second definition should be added to previous definitions of ableism in order for us to have a clear sense of really what is going on here. You have to have these typical abilities in order to produce. And that is what is potentially privileged by those in power who want to generate wealth. Okay, another example of why this is true and this is a famous, famous case. Many of you may remember this from law school Buck v. Bell. And this adds to the idea that ableism is rooted not just in anti-blackness as the newer definition says, but also in eugenics. This is April 27, the US Supreme Court voted eight to one to uphold the sterilization of Carrie Buck. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. opinion included the following statements which are ludicrous you will see but which have now been quoted very, very often, okay? Carrie Buck is a feeble-minded white woman who is committed to the state colony above mention in due form. She's the daughter of a feeble-minded mother in the same institution and the mother of an illegitimate feeble-minded child. She was 18 years old at the time of the trial of her case in the Circuit Court in the latter part of 1924. The Commonwealth of Virginia is supporting in various institutions many defective persons, what do they mean by that? They mean that they're giving aid, right? To various "defective people, persons." People with... Who they believe have disabilities or what have you. Who if now discharged will become a menace but if incapable of procreating might be discharged with safety and become self-supporting with benefit to themselves and to society. Experiences shown that heredity plays an important part in the transmission of insanity and imbecility, et cetera. It is better for all the world, oh my. If instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime or to let them starve for their imbecility society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind, the principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the fallopian tubes. Three generations of imbeciles are enough. So we have this idea that anyone who is deemed to have an intellectual disability should not procreate. Why should they not procreate? Because the state says it has an interest in making sure that people who "can't be productive from an economic perspective" don't procreate, don't produce more people. That your value is based on the fact that you are able to contribute financially to society and if disability may prevent you from doing so, then you don't have a right to live and procreate. Scary. But this again expands our understanding of intersectionality and how all of these ideas in terms of classism, right? Racism and ableism intersect in order to, I would say, perpetuate systems of oppression. All right, so that's the background. The background is that now we're saying that ableism or discrimination based on ability or disability is a part of a complex system, a very, very complex system that is rooted in capitalism, eugenics, anti-blackness, and that all of these forms of oppression often we together to marginalize certain individuals. Now, let's think about these modern forms of exclusion because many of you are saying, okay, Ama, Carrie Buck, The Bell or what have you was a long time ago, that was 1927, that was a long time ago. You might say to me that also these other disorders that I mentioned, drapetomania, homosexuality, female orgasms, all considered disorders this was all from a long time ago we have progressed instead, many of you may say that to me. We have progressed. But let's think about our modern era and really be honest with ourselves about whether we have come to the place that we need to come. So very often in my diversity programs, I define equity as this. What type of accommodations would be not accommodations but the standard. If all of us were to pause for a moment and imagine that we were just spirits in the world and we didn't know how we were gonna come out. We didn't know whether we were gonna come out black, we didn't know whether we come out white, of Asian descent, of Latin American ancestry, of indigenous ancestry. We didn't know whether we were gonna come out being able to walk, not being able to walk, being able to see, not being able to see, being able to hear, not being able to hear, whether we were gonna be on the autism spectrum, whether we were gonna have dyslexia. If we had no clue how we were gonna come out, how would the world look? And I would say that the world would look very, very different. So right now there are places where we go where there's no elevator, where there's no wheelchair ramp, and there's lacking in terms of physical access. That is not equitable, that is a modern form of exclusion. I live in New York City and there are plenty of train stations that do not have readily accessible elevators. A form of exclusion. Lack of captions is the default. So right now I'm still trying to figure out in Zoom, how to make sure that all my presentations have closed caption. Why is that something I should even figure out. If we lived in a more equitable world, this would be inbuilt, this would be inbuilt. This would happen all the time so that people who are unable to hear would be able to participate. Neglecting to create a budget for disability inclusion. Many of you are part of organizations that if you say to the person in the accounting department, what is our budget for disability inclusion? They won't know what you're talking about. They'll say, "What are you referring to?" This is not necessarily the standard. Let's think about this, failure to provide an appropriate setting for school children with distinct needs. Oh my goodness. I could talk about this for days as someone who has a child with special needs. Many schools believe in a one size fits all approach. So I have a child who's considered price exceptional, meaning that he is both gifted and also has a learning disability. Mostly it presents itself as anxiety and he needs more tailored education, right? He can be in one grade for one subject, another grade for another subject. When you look at his IQ test he could score 99 percentile in one area and 14 percentile in another. He was able to do AP History in fourth grade but he was doing fourth grade math in fourth grade, right? He can't go to a regular school, regular schools aren't built like that. Absolutely not, right? And there are many people with special needs who are not being accommodated by their school districts and their entire school districts that don't even have any resources or any facility that can cater to their needs. Forced inclusion when it is inappropriate. What's an example of that. Some people have noise sensitivities and they are sensitive to sensory simulation. I read a story about a young child in school who was being forced to attend an assembly in which loud music was being played and he literally had to put his hands over his ears and was crying and ran out of the assembly and what did they do? They dragged him and made him sit through it although he was suffering because it was too loud for him. So sometimes people will be forced to be included when it's inappropriate because the sensory environment or whatever it is in the environment is not appropriate for them. Policies against devices or equipment needed by people with disabilities or special needs. I can give an example about that, right? So some children, my son needed some sort of noise canceling headphones in order to attend assemblies and the school said, no. They said, absolutely not, right? This happens all the time. The children may need certain types of computers. They may need certain sort of software. They may need certain type of programs. Workers may need certain type of devices and programs in order to function to the best of their ability but there are policies that it's not allowed. Lack of schedule accommodations for people with disabilities or special needs. This comes up all the time. I have a friend who has diabetes and she talks about the schedule not being appropriate for her because she has to eat during certain times in order to keep her blood sugar stable. But she's at a job where they're like, just work, work, work, work, work like Rihanna's song. Work, work, work, work, right? Instead of having some sort of breaks, right? Again, discrimination against people with disabilities, disorders, and special needs by adoption agencies and child welfare organizations. There is rich case history about people with special needs having their parental rights challenge because social workers look at them as being unable to care for a child because of their distinct needs. So I am grateful that we don't see cases like Carrie... Buck v. Bell happening all the time where people are literally being sterilized. But that does not mean that there is disability inclusion when it comes to child rearing because unfortunately very often people with special needs are being investigated and they're sort of an adversarial relationship because child welfare agencies believe that they are just completely incapable of taking care of their kids when they have their own abilities. Someone said it best. This was a friend of mine had a work husband who was blind. And her work husband said, "Don't think of me as being able to do the things "that you can do with your eyes closed." And I thought that was a very profound statement. People with special needs have different circuitry very often, which allows them to be able to do things that... In ways that are appropriate to them. They have innovation, they have honed certain skills and certain abilities, right? So there are people who are blind who can tell people apart by their smell. I can't tell anyone apart from their smell, right? 'Cause I haven't had to hone that ability. but others have, right? So they are able to do things very well. But if we judge them by, oh, I can't tell people apart without looking at them, then we are completely underestimating the ability and we are being discriminatory. This is a modern example of exclusion. Kevin Burling v. Gravity Diagnostics LLC. This is a recent case just from April of this year. So Kevin Burling asked his employer, Gravity Diagnostics LLC not to give him birthday party because of his anxiety. I completely understand this. I have a big son who cannot take lots of noise. So I know birthday parties... He's going to his room during his birthday parties. He's been like, "Mommy, I've had enough." And all the kids are playing outside and he goes to his own room to decompress. So I've seen this in my own life. So Kevin Burling is an adult and he knows his limitations. I love it. He knows his abilities and he knows his limitations. He says, "Listen, I know it's your custom "to give every employee a birthday party, "but don't give me a birthday party." Okay. He says, it's his manager. Unfortunately his manager is away during the birthday time and he's given a birthday party. Who, without his consent. When Mr. Burling finds out that there's gonna be a party, he has a panic attack and he does not attend. The following day, his employer calls him into a meeting and confronts him and he's like, "Why weren't you at your own birthday party? "Really are killjoy. "What is wrong with you? "This is our custom, et cetera." During this confrontation he has another panic attack. He has another panic attack. It's unfortunately a very terrible situation and he's sent home by his supervisors. They said that he was clenching his fist and he was being... And that looked violent to them. It looked threatening to them. His fists were clenched, his face was turning red, they were scared that is why they sent him home. But not only did send him home, they then terminated him. So he of course is horrified. He had gotten really good reviews, great evaluations beforehand, he was a great employee. Now, after these two panic attacks, he is fired. So claiming disability discrimination under Kentucky Revised Statute 344, he sues his employer. What are the issues presented by the case? Was his anxiety a disability under the statute? Was being fired a negative employment action due to a disability? And was his termination a result of disability discrimination? Ring, ring, ring, ring, ring. What's the answer gonna be? This is what the jury found. A jury of Mr. Burling's peers decided the following. One, his anxiety disorder was indeed a disability under the statute. Two, his termination was indeed a negative employment action due to a disability. And three, it was an act of disability discrimination. He was awarded $450,000 by the jury, 120,000 in lost wages and benefits, 30,000 in future lost wages and benefits, 300,000 for past present and future mental pain and suffering, mental anguish, embarrassment, humiliation, modification, and loss of self esteem. So this is another example that inclusion is sometimes exclusion. They're thinking one size fits all. We give people birthday parties who doesn't like a birthday party, who doesn't like cake and sandwiches in the office? This is maybe a time that most people look forward to. But in order to truly include him, in order to truly understand his special needs, they should have excluded him from that. They should have found a new way to celebrate him, right? Maybe they should have just given him a gift card, an Amazon gift card and send an email, "Happy birthday to him," right? There are... We need to be creative and recognizing that we live in a world with diverse individuals. And because we live in a world with diverse individuals, we have to have diverse ways of doing things in honoring people. And this company refused to do so and they are paying a pretty penny as a result. So it's important to understand, inclusion also can mean exclusion, right? Because we need to respect people's wishes. Okay, great. Let's talk about the Americans Disabilities Act. Signed into law in July 26th, 1990 by President George H.W. Bush, what does it do? Prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities and aims to provide people with disabilities with the same opportunities to participate in American life. Doesn't that sound lofty everyone? Doesn't it sound lofty? Oh my goodness. Full ability to participate in American life that people with disabilities can be a part of the mainstream. Oh, love it, love it, love it, love it. So let's hear how this is really, really going to happen. It was modeled after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and or national origin. To gain its protection a person must have a disability as defined... As defined by the ADA, right? So there's certain disabilities, not everything is a disability, right? What else? The ADA defines a disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. A person who has a history or record of such an impairment or a person who's perceived by others of having such an impairment. These are some of the examples of common disabilities, deafness, blindness, intellectual disability, partially or completely missing limbs, mobility impairments, autism, cancer, cerebral palsy, diabetes, epilepsy, HIV infection, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and schizophrenia, okay. So it's a long list, right? It is a long list. I'm curious as to whether you think this list is missing some, right? It doesn't mean that it's not there because I'm curious as to whether you think that there are any other things that should be on the list and we'll talk about what's excluded, okay? So this is the ADA, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act. So let's talk about the various titles. So one applies to employment. It applies to private employees with 15 or more employees, state and local governments, employment agencies, labor unions, agents of the employer and joint management labor committees aims to help people with disabilities gain access to the same employment opportunities of people without disabilities. It requires employees to provide accommodations that are reasonable in nature to qualified applicants or employees. So this is very important. People should not think, 'cause this kinda sounds like reverse racism. Oh my goodness, they're just going to give all of the jobs to people of color. As with everything you need to be qualified, you need to be qualified, okay? Reasonable in nature to qualified applicants or employees. A reasonable accommodation is a modification that allows an employee with a disability to do the job without causing the employer too much difficulty expense or other "undue hardship." So if you meet someone who has a disability who is qualified and accommodation that's needed is not something that's gonna break the bank for the company. It's a reasonable accommodation. If it's not something that's going to be so hard to do, it's not going to either be too expensive, too difficult, mess up the company's prospects of staying in business and providing excellent service, it is an accommodation that should be done. The title applies to recruitment, advertising, tenure, layoff, leave, fringe benefits, and all of the employment related activities. This is enforced by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The second part of it deals with public services, state and local government. It applies to public entities such as state and local government agencies and it prohibits discrimination based on disability by public entities, right? So this demands that public entities make their programs, services, and activities accessible to people... Individuals or people with disabilities. And this is the important part, it requires self-evaluation and planning for making reasonable changes. And this is still happening I'm sure in many places all around the country. The reasonable changes have to be made consistency to policies, practices, and procedures in order to avoid that discrimination. So what are some of these things that should be happening? Locating architectural barriers. Are there areas of a building that would be difficult to access by wheelchair. Ensuring effective communication with people. Closed captions would be a way to more effectively have communication with people who are deaf, potentially adding braille, signs that are in braille in many places would be a way to more effectively communicate with people with hearing, vision, or speech disabilities. This is not enforced by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. This is enforced and regulated by the US Department of Justice. Now, our third title of it, public accommodations and services operated by private entities. So this prohibits discrimination against individual disabilities by places of public accommodation. And that's everywhere basically. If you are a place that is open to the public, you're impacted. You can't say, oh, my daycare center is really not open to public. If general people are able to come in, then you're impacted. Places of public accommodation include privately owned, right? Public accommodation does not mean public government owned. Privately owned, leased, or operated facilities such as hotels, restaurants, doctors' offices, private schools, private daycare centers, movie theaters, and more. They should be complying here. Provides the minimum standard for making alterations to existing structures and new construction of commercial facilities and privately owned public accommodations. Requires public accommodations to take away barriers in case... In cases where it's easy to do so without creating difficulty or expense. So of course, what we see here is that this statute is trying to balance business, right? Businesses cannot... If they have to spend a whole lot of money to do things, it could wind up causing more harm than good because they would go out of business, people would be unemployed, it would be very challenging. So there's all of this balancing in terms of how we make things accessible while still making sure that businesses are able to run. So again, you have this whole idea of can they do it without great difficulty or expense. Requires businesses to engage in reasonable modifications, the typical ways of doing business in order to accommodate people with disabilities. Requires businesses to take the necessary steps to engage in effective communication with customers with vision, hearing, and speech disabilities. So that is title three and here's title four, telecommunications requires federally funded public service announcements to have closed captioning. That makes sense. Requires that telecommunication companies, telephone and internet provide a nationwide system of interstate and intrastate telecommunications relay services that enable individuals with hearing or speech disabilities to communicate over the phone. So incredibly important regulated by the FCC. All right, and now let's talk about this miscellaneous division, okay. Miscellaneous division over here. This has provisions relating to the ADA as a whole. It explains the ADA's relationship with other laws, right? So first of all, it doesn't invalidate or limit remedies or rights or procedures of any other federal or state law. So in that case that I just told you about, I believe his name was Kevin Burling, it was under Kentucky law, right? And of course it has implications and there may have been a possibility of a federal suit, but we're saying, hey, it doesn't invalidate state law. People are able to find remedies under their own state law. It describes the impact on insurers. Insurers are allowed to consider disabilities in calculating risks, right? So insurers should not... Should not think that, oh, now I would be discriminating if I take into consideration with respect to premiums, the fact that someone has HIV. That's not illegal, right? They are allowed to take that into consideration. It prohibits retaliation or coercion based on opposition of practices that are unlawful according to the ADA and provides a list of certain conditions that are not considered disabilities. For example, now this is an important one. I'm wondering whether I gave you this list before, right? Deafness, blindness, intellectual disability, whether you thought of drug addiction. I had asked you at that point, "Hmm, do you think about this?" Okay, and it's wanting to know this is title five over here. Title five, not title four. Do you think, do you think that drug addiction should have been a part of this? So some of the things that are not considered disabilities, individuals in same sex relationships and individuals who use illegal drugs, they are not considered people with disabilities. So that's something that you might wanna think about whether you think that's accurate or not, right? People call alcoholism a disease. And alcohol is legal and whatnot, but people call addiction a disease, right? So illegal drugs not considered a person with a disability. And people would generally say, someone who's taking illegal drug has a disease of addiction. But according to the ADA, that is not one. All right, so let's move on. We're going to get to our conversation with Nicole very quickly. But before then there's just one other part that I'm sharing with you and that's ableism in language. It's all over. When you look at this list, you're gonna say, oh my goodness, I have engage in Ables language. So using the term retarded or stupid when you mean annoying, irritating, frustrating, or obnoxious. That's ableism in language, right? We should try our best to remove using terms like retarded or stupid, right? Saying retarded, if you mean silly, cheesy dorky or nonsensical. We wanna create clarity in our language that is not stigmatizing. So using the term retarded is certainly stigmatizing for people with intellectual disabilities. We wanna get away from that. Using the term sparse is stigmatizing for people with anxiety disorders or what have you, right? Using the term insane or crazy is stigmatizing to people with mental health disorders. So instead of saying insane or crazy, we'd better to say intense, amazing, you know, really. Like, "Oh my God, it was crazy awesome." No, "It was really awesome." Wicked, awesome, wild, or extremely. Crazy again. We could say shocking, unbelievable, overwhelming, outrageous, ridiculous, and or bizarre. Lame. We could say bad, uncool, awful, and or unpleasant. Psychopath or sociopath. Again, there are specific mental health disorders that we don't want to stigmatize or belittle them by using these words in inappropriate ways. Instead of saying psychopath or sociopath you can dangerous, threatening, menacing and or frightening. Here are some other examples. Consider saying this instead of that, right? So instead of saying, oh, this woman has children. Has disabled or handicapped, tripled, or deformed children. We could say, the child has a disability, right? So instead of saying a disabled child or a handicapped child we can say a child with a disability. Instead of saying that person's mentally disabled or retarded we can say that person has a cognitive disability or cognitive delay. Instead of saying he's a down or worse yet, he's a mongoloid just say the person has down syndrome. Instead of saying, she's a quadriplegic. We can say she has quadriplegia. You may be seeing a pattern here. We wanna get to people centered language where we're not defining people by what's considered as disability. We're saying it's something that they have, right? So I have a lot of things. I have a pink phone case, right? I have a blue pen. The person has down syndrome, right? Instead of saying, the person is mentally ill or disturbed, we can say the person has a mental illness, right? So someone can have something and then they cannot have it. Many people know they can be anemic, right? Many women are anemic at a certain time of the month, right? But then they're not anemic at other times, right? So it's something that could... We're creating some openness in the language, right? She has a mental health issue. She has a mental health condition. She has a mental health illness. Not this person is mentally ill, disturbed, or retarded. We wanna get away from that defining language that is so stigmatizing that is so, what should we say, it is so restrictive, so limiting and get to language that is open and expansive. Instead of saying he's confined to a wheelchair or his wheelchair bound, the person can't speak. We say, the person uses a wheelchair, right? Today the person uses a wheelchair like today I use the umbrella. Tomorrow I may not. And the thing is, let's be open that there are certain advances in technology where someone who at one point uses a wheelchair may not have to use one tomorrow. So let's be expansive. He uses a wheelchair or mobility device. The person uses a communications device, right? So I saw a great program with someone who was on the autism spectrum who used a computer to speak, right? The person... We're not saying the person... We're not calling the person a person. We're saying the person uses a communications device. This is someone who can use a communications device. Another one, instead of, this person's in special ed, right? The person receives special education services. So this is by no means not an expansive list, right? And the list continues but I want to get the hint and we're going to make mistakes, we're going to make mistakes. This is an evolving terrain. One thing that I love about being a DEI trainer or consultant is that it's an evolving terrain. Every day we're learning something new, every day we're becoming more expansive, every day we're growing in our awareness. And that being said, it's not always easy to just flip a switch and change the language. Language is learned very often through repetition, through experience, through family, through culture. It is not easy to switch. So give ourselves grace, but this is the goal to get to this more expansive, inclusive language. Instead of saying, hey, those are normal kids versus abnormal. We'll say, this person doesn't have a disability. This person seems to be more typically developing. Instead of saying that someone is mute, again, this is the idea of this person is mute. Like it is such a firm characteristic. Person does not speak, right? The person uses devices to speak or what have you. Instead of saying, this person has a birth defect is limbless or crippled. The person had is a congenital disability or was born without a limb. Instead of saying the person's brain damaged. The person suffered a brain injury. Instead of saying handicapped parking, we say accessible parking. So these are various ways in which we are trying and I got this from Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital. We are trying to learn how to be expansive with our language. Again, it is not overnight but we're trying. All right, let's start talking about how exactly as attorneys, as people in professional services in general. We might be attorneys, we might be social workers, we might be a customer service agents. As people who are people facing and in the business of helping other people, how do we make sure that we're engaging in more sensitive services in a way that allows for us to better serve people with different abilities, people potentially with disabilities. How do we do that. And we're gonna talk to Nicole about that. So, Nicole first, can you please... We have a series of questions for you first. Can you please describe your journey with respect to disability? Oh, and I'm sorry, before I start, I should say this. I vetted all these questions with Nicole. So don't think I'm over here imposing. That's come up. We've done this presentation and people are like, Ama, you over there just being so rude and intrusive. She's seen these questions before, so don't worry. All right, Nicole, can you please describe your own journey with respect to disability?

- Sure, so I have a kind of an interesting blend. Some people are acquired disabilities and people are born with them. So I'm kind of both. I acquired my disability right after birth. So while I wasn't born with it, I've always had a disability specifically what they call which is muscle weakness and scoliosis.

- Okay, all right. And that is something that... Was it apparent to your parents when you first were born?

- No, it was actually a result of medical malpractice. So I wasn't born with any disability. And the doctor who delivered me made certain mistakes in the early part of my... In the early part of the time after I was born and I acquired disabilities right after.

- Okay, so it wasn't during your coming out of the womb it was like right after, okay. That's why you're saying, so you weren't born with it 'cause immediately afterwards you didn't have it, but shortly after the doctor delivered you was doing things and it happened, okay. Okay, I get it. So that is interesting. That's why you say it's a blend, right? Thank you for clarifying. What barriers do you believe many people with disabilities face with respect to experiencing inclusion and belonging in society?

- I think it's mostly mindsets. As most people with disabilities would tell you after probably 5 to 10 years, the disability isn't really a problem anymore. As people learn that you gain 5 to 10 pounds for most people who don't have disabilities. Initially when you gain 5 to 10 pounds or 20 pounds even 30 pounds, right? It's very difficult. But over time, your body adapts. And it's kind of similar to what you were saying earlier, that for people who may have blindness or people who may have deafness or anxiety or in my situation like mobility challenges, you learn to adapt to that. So it's actually not the disability, it's more the perception of the disability and how other people see the disability and whether or not they believe it's important to be inclusive. That's usually one of the biggest barriers that people experience. Is just being included and being thought of in just as existing in society.

- Wow, that's really powerful. That is really powerful. Yes, because the body and the brain are resilient. So people with disabilities have figured out all these ways to navigate the world but it's like the world hasn't figured out how to navigate with them.

- You're right, exactly.

- Wow. Wow, interesting. Very, very interesting. I saw a program... I've seen two interesting programs about communities where for some reason there's like a gene within the community that like causes deafness. And so one was in Asia and one was actually in my parental homeland of Ghana where these insular communities everyone spoke sign language. And I thought, wow, shouldn't the world be like that though? Like everyone in this... So in this community, they said like, this was a quote from the video, everyone in this community speaks... Does sign language and it's with their own local sign language and therefore there's no discrimination. And I was like, wow. Like this is the perfect part of that idea that I was discussing earlier. Like if you were just a spirit and you had to figure out what the world would be like, we could create a very equitable world where like all of us from the very beginning will know sign language and so the fact that someone's deaf would really have no... It would be of no importance. It wouldn't be that much of an issue because everyone would be able to communicate with them and the same thing with braille. But unfortunately we haven't gotten there yet. Okay, next question. What suggestions do you have for attorneys wanna be more inclusive toward other attorneys and or clients with disabilities?

- The main thing is to recognize that we as people with disabilities exist and to operate as if we exist. So a story that I often tell is when I was graduating from law school, I interviewed at a law firm and the interviewer was very excited about it, called me in, and wanted to discuss face to face. And it had not occurred to this individual that I could actually have mobility challenges. And so when I arrived to the location, there was a large staircase and there was no way for me to get actually upstairs. And so that's something where it was unwise for them not just in terms of limiting the amount of people who could come in and work or the types of people who come in and work. But it also limits the kind of customers and clients they can have. Because if I am a client with a disability or an ally of people with disabilities and I come in the door and there's no elevator, I'm not gonna wanna do business with that firm. So I think that one of the main suggestions is to think with disabilities in mind and people with disabilities in mind. To think that these people, people with disabilities exist in the world and don't automatically assume that we are not going to be applying for your jobs or coming to your businesses. Think with us in mind particularly when it comes to attorneys and clients. You may have clients with disabilities, you may have clients who have just different challenges that a typical environment would not accommodate. So I think that that's important for people to... One of the main suggestions just to remember that there are people with disabilities who exist. Gratefully are not institutionalized as we used to be and we operate in the world.

- So if you had to go back in time and advise that organization what should they have done differently in order to make sure that the disaster did not happen?

- I would honestly say that they should adopt a universal design. An elevator doesn't just help people who use wheelchairs, even though I make it very that's enough. Just because it... Just because it only helps people with disabilities or people with mobility challenges, doesn't mean it's an excuse not to do it. But aside from that, it helps everybody. So installing an elevator at the onset or not working in a building that does not have that is something that... Really it may cost you some money on the front end, but it would pay back dividends not just in terms of clients and perception but also in recruiting the best talent regardless of ability status.

- Wow. Now at that time, I'm trying to think, 'cause it's a little bit hard to like renovate your building in time for an interview. Would they have like, I don't know... Okay, actually, I'm trying to think I'm just brainstorming. Potentially they could have interviewed you at another location.

- Yes.

- Maybe rented in a place or someplace that was public access. Like have they known or thought about it? I don't know, like with the ADA law, some research would have to be done, but certain organizations I believe have like checklist in terms of like and preparing for you. Are there any things we should make sure of. I don't know what it does like 'cause sometimes it's a little bit strange because sometimes those sort of questions are seen as not right. But then you kinda need to have those questions in order to prepare. So I think the law is... There's some changes that have to take place potentially in order to do that. But that might have been the potential or literally I don't know whether they would've set up an office right on the first floor. There has to be some sort of creativity, but the fact that it did not even occur to them is the problem. So you're saying if people wanna create more sensitive services, they have to just start thinking and brainstorming these things.

- Yes. And being willing to adapt. Like I said, I had... That happened in another firm but by the time I actually circled back they ended up... A couple years later they completely moved the building because now they actually reacted when they saw and said wow, there's a person here who came and she could not work here because she used a wheelchair. Well, we're gonna have to fix this. And so by the time I heard about them again, they had completely moved the building they were in come to a building that had an elevator. So I definitely respect that firm and I would say that that's a great reaction to that if you can do it in the moment.

- Wow. Perfect, perfect, perfect. That's a really good story. All right, great. Are there any lessons around disabilities or surrounding disability that you believe typically able people should learn?

- I think that just that the desires of people with disabilities are no different from anyone else's desires. It seems to be kind of a strange mindset that people have that somehow a mobility challenge or a mental whatever makes somebody completely . Like this is a human being and so I think that how would you wanna be treated in a setting? Would you want to be in a situation where you didn't feel welcome? Would you wanna be in a situation where you wouldn't... You don't feel included or would you want to be included? Would that make you want to be there? So I think that's one of the main lessons surrounding disability is that it is an occurrence of life and it's a fact of life that people just experience and it isn't a basis for discrimination. And not only that in the same way that anyone else would wanna be included and considered in a situation it's no different. And I think when people think about that, I think it can shape a lot more about how they prepare for or think of people with disabilities is how would you wanna be treated in a situation if you had something that you would need.

- Wow. I think that's a really interesting point especially given the fact that disability unlike something like race or, well, maybe race is one of the only like 'cause gender is a little... Can be a little bit mutable and even sexual orientation can be mutable. I know people who were considered straight and then identified as gay. But disability is something that can happen to anyone. Like it can happen to anyone and it does happen to a lot of people 'cause when you look at people who are older in age, very often, they start having issues, et cetera, et cetera. And so maybe that can be a way of teaching people that everyone does have those human hopes and desires because if something were to happen tomorrow, God forbid, where someone found themselves in a situation where they got into a car accident, God forbid, they get into a car accident or whatever. Something happened and they wind up having a disability that they did not have due to something traumatic like that. That's why I say God forbid, will their hopes and dreams change? Hopefully not, hopefully not. Because I think sometimes unfortunately people's hopes and dreams do change because now they start feeling as if their lives can be limited. And actually that's a question for you, Nicole. Do you... How did you... How do you balance that on a personal level? Like did you... Like what inside of you allowed you to believe, "No, my life will not be limited."

- I mean, candidly, I'm a person of deep faith. And so I believe that things are the way they are supposed to be and so if that was going to be a limit to me then it wouldn't have happened. I genuinely believe that. And I was also raised by a mother, a very... People talk about the strong single mother who did not see a limitation. She knew I had a disability, she got me a wheelchair when I needed one, but there was no less of an expectation. Mind strangely I was the first person in my family with a disability from a young age yet my grandparents who died in their 90s or born in the '20s they didn't see any reason why I shouldn't be a lawyer, they didn't see any... It was I born into a very, very encouraging environment where again, like I said, relying on my faith but also relying on my family that really genuinely didn't see any reason why I shouldn't be able to achieve my goals and my dreams and expected me to do that. It eliminated a lot of the barriers that I had. And again, I recognize that even that as a position of privilege because I was born into a family where education was highly valued and there were resources available that my disability would not be the end of my educational experience which it is for some people. But given all of that, combining together, family support, faith, and honestly my own determination that's what helped me to kinda allow the disability to... I can't say not defining because to a certain extent it does. I mean, I am a person with a disability and I'm very proud of that but to not change my decisions-

- Yes.

- Yeah. Wow, I'm really... I did not realize that your mother was a single mother. In other presentations you had told me that you were homeschooled at one point.

- Yes.

- homeschooled you while being a single mother.

- Yes.

- Wow! So she was homeschooling you and working.

- Yes. She homeschooled my sister and I while working until we got to a certain point when I was in sixth grade, I went to traditional school and that's when she went back to work in a traditional setting. But she homeschooled us because getting back to accessibility, the school that I was districted to or zoned to was not wheelchair accessible. And so my mother didn't have really a choice. She wanted me to get an education and the school that I would be going to could not accommodate me. So she got me the education that I needed and then when I got older and moved to a different area, I was able to go to a... I was zoned for a school that was actually wheelchair accessible.

- Wow, so that goes back to... I mean, when we said, and I actually tell the truth, I'm thinking of my children's schools and I don't think they're wheelchair accessible. So when we go back to this slide or when we think about modern forms of exclusion that we discussed in the prior presentation that still unfortunately exist. And so your mother had to take it upon herself to... Oh my goodness, homeschool you because it was not available. So that goes back to the point that we made earlier about modern forms of exclusion. My, my, okay. Well thank you, that is really helpful. Okay, next question. Are there any resources about ableism that you recommend?

- I would say that YouTube is a great source. It's actually a very exciting time as a person with a disability or disabled person some people define themselves in different ways-

- Please tell. Tell us what do you feel as if is a difference and what do you prefer just as you from your perspective.

- Everybody is different and again, but for me I have no problem saying that I'm disabled. I don't think of disabled as negative. I of course don't wanna be called crippled. Like there's nothing positive about that. Lame, there's nothing positive about that. But inherent to me, disability is not inherently negative. For other people they feel like, no, the disability does not define me as a person. So therefore I'd rather say I'm a person with a disability. For me I have no problem saying I'm a disabled person as long as the person is included. That's really the focus for me. But I would say... I said, YouTube. I spoke about this in our previous presentation. I love the YouTube channel Roll with Cole & Charisma. They're great. They talk about so many issues regarding ableism and they help establish ableism in a... More so explain ableism in a very concrete way. You really have to close your eyes or refuse to understand what they're saying in order to see where the barriers are. Like you can't miss these barriers. These literally going places and can't get out. And there's just things like that but it's an exciting time and I said, there's so many resources through educational websites even just talking about disability. So I would suggest YouTube and then I also would suggest people in your life. As you mentioned , there are disabilities that may not be readily noticeable by people. But you may never know people in your life may be great resources who are willing to answer questions and I wouldn't suggest going up to people and demanding that they tell you their life story but some people are very . Some people are very open and I'm one of those people very open about it because it's not... I've come to a place of acceptance that it's not traumatic to talk about.

- Okay, okay, wow, all right. So you say just kind of hearing people's perspectives. That is... And thankfully we live in the modern world with social media, with... Literally you just choose your method there's just too many to choose from whether it's like YouTube or TikTok or whatever where people are sharing their stories. So you think that in order to become more sensitive and more aware and more able to expand one's mind to be able to think... "Cause you had said, if there's anything you recommend, it's like expanding your mind to say, hey, there are people with disabilities in the world and how do we redesign our office, redesign our practice, redesign our school, redesign our nonprofit, redesign our for profit, whatever it is. Redesign our organization to be able to serve their needs. But that following them on social media, hearing their stories, reading their blog posts, watching their videos, you believe that's one of the best ways to kinda open one's mind. And then I think you're saying something else, which is your mind... You may literally even have this in your own life and not know it, not know it. So I know you have a current role now in which you're seeing a myriad of disabilities. Can you share some information about like what you're seeing and the nuances between or among the various disabilities that you're now... That you're now becoming more aware of?

- Yeah. So in my new role that I've been working in, I've been communicating a lot more people with mental health challenges or people who have schizophrenia or people who have bipolar disorder and you learn just so much more about the types of disabilities that I just never had any connection with, things that I've always been physically disabled. And so you realize even the diversity within the disability experience, that there are people who are... They have disabilities just like I have disabilities but recognizing that those... There are differences even within that. I think it's one of the... One of the more interesting thing I've noticed is the ableism internalized ableism that even amongst other people with disabilities. Explain that more to me. What do you mean by internalized ableism among people with disabilities, please.

- So I'm an attorney in that division. It is shocking to people and frankly they automatically assume that I'm not disabled. When people speak to me, it's very shocking that you don't understand you're not disabled. Like, well, yes I am disabled. But it's the mindset that many people have that these things are unachievable, certain careers are unachievable, and even people who are within the disability community. So I think that's one way-

- Wow.

- Interesting things, yeah.

- Okay, that's what you mean by internalized. Meaning they think that someone with disability shouldn't become a lawyer or should not have access to that as a career. So they're shocked to hear that the lawyer that they're speaking to also has a disability because they've absorbed that limiting belief.

- Yes.

- Wow. Which you say you never had because by divine providence or luck or whatever the universe you were born into a home and in a family in which you were not fed that.

- Right, absolutely. I would...

- Wow. So they're surprised that you as their lawyer has a disability. Okay, interesting. What else have you seen in terms of nuances because I think that's also a challenge that I've seen that all disabilities are very much kind of lumped into just this category but there's so much diversity.

- Yes. And so... I mean, yes, like you said, I think that just nuances between physical and other types of disabilities I think that the... We basically call it multimodal, there are people who have multiple disabilities at the same time and figuring out when people are communicating with people with disabilities, what is seen as dominant, what is seen as the most debilitating, as they say, it's really the words they use, most disabling condition and you realize, okay, that's how people view that particular disability as-

- Wow.

- Particularly difficult.

- So you're talking about in terms of creating a hierarchy.

- Exactly.

- A hierarchy of disabilities. Like this is more debilitating, this person may have a disability but that's not a real disability. You've been seeing that a lot more in your work.

- Absolutely.

- And how's that... How's that impacted people like were they able to access services or like yeah tell us how that hierarchy is impacting life and work.

- Interestingly the way that it works it actually works positively because the impetus behind the program is we want to help people who have the most severe disabilities first, that is given priority. So if we can help you... You have the most significant disability, we will get you in faster. It's a very interesting program in that regard where it's that what could ultimately be seen as discriminatory ultimately ends up being very beneficial because of the mindset behind the program is we want to help those who need the most help so they can become self-sustaining and independent because we believe they can be. And so it's very interesting seeing that hierarchy within disabilities. And particularly from a legal standpoint, there's always been a hierarchy of disabilities as we all know, people think of, well, there's more ability versus less ability, quadriplegia as being much worse than paraplegia, things like that. And so you see that kind of thing. But I think that's one thing I learned... I'm learning the most about it and the role is that, there certainly is a hierarchy of disabilities even from a legal standpoint but it's not always a bad thing and it can actually encourage people hopefully to embrace their disabilities because it actually can be beneficial to you in receiving services.

- Okay. Okay, that's interesting I'm just gonna summarize. So what you've noticed most since you've taken on a new career as in disability, what would you call it? Would it be like disability services? Would you refer to it as like services? Services, like yeah... services for people... Educational services for people with disabilities. You've noticed the limiting beliefs even within the community of people with disabilities that there's internalized ableism in which unfortunately very often people themselves with disabilities feel as if they're more limited than they really are. And so they're shocked that you are a person with a disability who has reached the level that you have. You say you've also recognized that there seems to be this hierarchy in terms of who is the most "disabled, "whose condition is most debilitating." And that very often we should say motivates who gets services to a certain extent. Which is very interesting because then people who are "considered less severely disabled," still need services but they may feel as if they're being put on the back burner to a certain extent in the provision of services. So those are some of the things that you've noticed. And then as you were saying before, when it comes to... Can you give us any insight on how the various disabilities are perceived in terms of whether mental health disabilities or intellectual disabilities are considered more acute or more in need of services versus mobility issues. Do you have any insights on that?

- From what I've seen what seems to take, and again, limited period of time. Mental health challenges are seen as very serious and as in need of services because it's a wraparound program. So it's not just getting someone to a certain point it's also getting the mental health help the person needs. And those are... And typically, I guess, just from a general standpoint of, there's not much you can do of a person's. For example, there are person who use a wheelchair their spinal cord is completely healed is just not going to return... Function's not gonna return to a certain lens. There's not much you can really do. It's just, okay, well now what do we do? Whereas mental health is something that you can actually improve upon. You can actually get somebody involved in services and get them whatever information they need, whether it's medication or it's counseling to actually raise the ability of that person to be self-sustaining. Whereas with physical disabilities, it is what it is. And it's sort of more about accommodations than about improvement if you will.

- Wow, perfect, thank you. All right, this has been a fascinating conversation. It has been an incredibly enlightening conversation. I think we need more conversations like this. As I mentioned, part of the reason why I love the DEIB space, the diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging space is because we are constantly opening our eyes. We're constantly building more awareness with respect to the type of world that we wish we had all been born into to a certain extent. So let's just conclude and wrap this up. So the whole goal of this presentation was understanding ableism, understanding exactly what it is. And we've learned that it is a system in which basically people's value and worth is determined by their ability to engage in sort of typical work. And that idea is really, really, unfortunately, very rooted in anti-blackness, eugenics, and capitalism. The idea that there is a typical type of person there's a certain way of being that is most considered most valuable for production, for producing, for building wealth. And for those people who do not... Either they don't need it or they are not conforming to it, those people are somehow shunned and marginalized. And this leads to this idea of intersectionality that each person that we meet is often, each person that we meet is experiencing marginalization or non marginalization or inclusion based on not just one identity of whether they're black or white or whether they're Christian or Jewish, but really, or whether they are considered typically abled or they're considered a person with a disability, they are being treated based on the intersection of all of those various identities. To recap that as our first part. So now let's talk about it, understand it. We understand that there's this system, we all need to engage in the work of uprooting it. How do we do this and what do we have to do? We're hoping to comply with both the intent and the spirit of the ADA and the law of the ADA. We're recognizing that each individual that we deal with has multiple identities and we are interested in being inclusive of all of those identities. We also recognize that why we need to engage in this work is because a rising tide lifts all boats. When we provide elevator access, that doesn't just help people with mobility issues, it helps the person who has groceries, it helps the person who's using a stroller, who has a stroller for their child. When we include closed captioning, it's not just helping people who know themselves to be hearing impaired, but helps all of us potentially understand the material better, right? So we want to engage in these activities and able to uplift everyone. So what is the work that we have to do? We have to... We hope to provide access where access has been limited in the phenomenal saying. That after this presentation, we need to really look at our organization and say, "How do we provide access to more people "by recognizing that people with disabilities exist?" We create the budget for engaging in that work, we modify our language so that it is inclusive and we are talking about people first but we also proceed with humanity and give ourselves grace because we understand that this is an emerging situation.

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