As this was our first program under our newly rebranded identity, we knew we had to make a smashing impression! With an inspiring message by Illinois Governor JB Pritzker, the comedy stylings of Maysoon Zayid, the legal insights of Andrés Gallegos, the cultural musings of Andraéa LaVant, and the voting battle cries of Dom Kelly—we think we succeeded.
Access the full video and transcript here. And read on for our event highlights!
We were honored to have Governor JB Pritzker introduce our event with a special message to our Disability Lead Network. An excerpt:
“You represent vital civic leaders in our communities and across our state. Every individual deserves the right to live, learn, work, play and be included in everyday life, and your continued advocacy is making a real impact. Your critical work helps ensure individuals with disabilities have positions of power and influence, creating a more inclusive society. I'm proud to join you in this effort.”
Being huge fans, we were delighted when actress, comedian, writer, and disability advocate Maysoon Zayid agreed to grace our event with her sly sense of humor. You might recognize her from her number-one-ranked TED Talk in 2014, or on daytime television’s General Hospital, or in Adam Sandler’s black comedy film You Don’t Mess with the Zohan.
She begins her 20-minute segment with a charming visual description. “Hello. My name is Maysoon Zayid. And for those of you who can't see me, I look like the lost Kardashian. I have long black straight hair, cinnamon skin. I am wearing completely inappropriately sparkly lipstick.” She goes onto explain the importance of visual descriptions and how they not only allow people who are blind or have low vision to participate, but also those who may lack adequate technology to stream live video.
Throughout the rest of her 20-minute segment, humor pops up in unexpected places. “In the oppression Olympics, I would win a gold medal,” she exclaims, listing her marginalized identities. “I'm Palestinian. I'm Muslim. I'm a woman of color. I'm disabled. I'm divorced. And I live in New Jersey.”
She takes time to cover serious issues, as well, such as the lack of proper disability representation in the media. “It is offensive, inauthentic, and cartoonish when non-disabled actors play visibly disabled on screen. A good way to think about it is if a wheelchair user can't play Beyonce, then Beyonce can't play a wheelchair user. And she can slay anything…just not that.”
She shares hilarious stories about getting pulled over by cops and skipping lines at Disney. We can’t possibly do these stories justice, so you’ll have to watch the video to find out why the cops gave her a “Rudy” style slow clap. Trust us—it’s worth it.
We brought Disability Lead Member/Board Member Andrés Gallegos (Founder of the Robbins, Salomon & Patt, Ltd.’s disability rights practice) onto our program to discuss one of his high-profile cases: a wrongful death lawsuit surrounding Michael Hickson, a 46-year-old Black man with disabilities who died after being deprived of life-sustaining treatment. When Michael’s wife pressed the physician about his refusal to treat her husband, he told her he thought Michael’s life was not worth saving. “It's one of the most blatant and egregious examples of ableism with deadly consequences that I've seen in my 27 years of practicing law,” Andrés says grimly.
Asked whether a successful outcome for this case might set some kind of legal precedent, Andrés is hopeful. “Foremost, what we're trying to do is make sure that [the medical center] is held accountable. That they change hospital policy. They change policies within the healthcare system. And so that they recognize that implicit bias had a role to play here. And that it never happens again.”
Andraéa LaVant was one of our favorite guests in our 2020 event, Crip Camp: Building Power to Create Culture Change, so we were thrilled to welcome her back!
As Crip Camp Impact Producer, Andraéa got the opportunity to attend the Academy Awards where the film was up for an Oscar for best documentary. Though it did not win, it still was a night of many firsts—including the Oscar’s first-ever wheelchair ramp! “The fact that if the Oscars had a ramp, everything else, every award show, every event that comes thereafter—if they set the bar there, then it's like undoubted that it has to continue. They can't go backwards,” points out Andraéa.
When asked how we can sustain and grow our communities, Andraéa says, “We have to continue to cultivate community in ways that allow people to bring their whole selves, and to do it in ways that are not formulaic. […] It's about creating flexible spaces where we can connect in ways that we haven't in the past.”
Dom Kelly is a political and fundraising professional and disability justice advocate on the Disability Council at Fair Fight Action, the voting rights organization spearheaded by Stacey Abrams. We asked him to discuss the importance of including people with disabilities in the conversation surrounding voter suppression.
“We've now seen over 400 voting bills introduced in 47 States this year and many of those bills have implications for people with disabilities,” Dom says. Now is the time to act.
One way is by sharing your personal story about voter suppression. Fair Fight is collecting stories from voters across the country to help advocate for federal legislation that protects voting rights, particularly the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.
“[These stories] demonstrate to Congress that this is vitally important legislation,” Dom says. “We've already gotten stories from people all across the country, but we are really lacking in stories from disabled voters.”
And that’s where you come in, positive disruptors! Please join the voter suppression fight by sharing your voting story.
We’d like to leave you with this powerful quote by Maysoon:
“The world is broken. But we can fix it. We can fix it by saying no to arming violence worldwide, and saying no to violence against women. We can fix it by saying no to being an internet troll, and no to raising an internet troll. And, we can fix it by saying no to being silenced. Your voice is your weapon against injustice, disability rights are human rights. I beg you, use it.” —Maysoon Zayid
At Disability Lead, we believe in the power of our leaders using their voice to demand change. Your support helps us turn our vision of people with disabilities leading with power and influence into a reality. Donate today.