Jul 26, 2022 - News

How disabled Washingtonians celebrate, advocate, and laugh

Illustration of a panda holding the disability pride flag.
Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

July is Disability Pride Month, a time to celebrate and recognize disability. However, the fight for accessibility and equity is ongoing.

Why it matters: According to the CDC, about a quarter of adults in the U.S. have a disability, including 115,400 D.C. residents.

We spoke to Washingtonians who shared how they celebrate their disabilities and, most importantly, what they need for equity.

Kevin Schultz, a 35-year-old D.C. resident, is proud to talk about his hearing loss.

  • He uses a cochlear implant in one ear and doesn’t hide when he has trouble hearing someone.
  • He also encourages his friends to get their hearing checked.

On equity: Schultz tells Axios that he makes sure accessibility features such as closed captioning and written instructions are available wherever he goes.

  • He recalls a time he boarded a Metro train that was labeled with the wrong destination. Unable to hear announcements, he had to ask a conductor for help.

“There are all kinds of things that we build into society that are designed to create equity for people with disabilities, but they're so rarely cared for, tended to, and operated correctly,” he tells Axios.

Lorry Dow, 70, lives in Arlington and has a traumatic brain injury. She tells Axios that it helps to educate the public about invisible disabilities, too.

On having an invisible disability: “I’ve been arrested for appearing drunk,” Dow says. When requesting accommodations over the phone for her disability, Dow has been transferred a number of times to more and more people who cannot help her.

  • One time at a party, a man told Dow that she didn’t look disabled. “That’s symbolic of how we evaluate people with disabilities,” she says.
  • “I try to educate people,” she adds. “But it drains my battery.”

Jenny Cavallero, 37, often looks for ways to ensure disabled comedians can perform in an accessible space. She is the interim manager at the D.C. Public Library's Center for Accessibility, and recently organized a comedy show featuring disabled comedians at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library.

  • “So many rooms where people come up and do stand-up comedy are not accessible physically,” she says.
  • Performers had a wide range of disabilities, Cavallero adds. “It’s diverse. It doesn’t affect people the same way."

On joking about disability: “Disabled people are funny ... We don’t live sad lives. We live very full, rich lives,” she tells Axios. Even when making jokes about her own experience, Cavallero says she never punches down on herself or on disability. “I make fun of the silly things I do. I don’t make fun of who I am at the core.”

On equity: According to Cavallero, true equity goes beyond visible forms of accessibility, such as American Sign Language. It focuses on exactly what resources people need within the community.

  • “The more you advertise accessible services that you have, the more people feel empowered to ask for the things they need,” she says.
  • Accessibility is part of the plan, not an afterthought, she adds.
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