July is Disability Pride Month! This annual observance promotes visibility, and mainstream awareness of the positive pride felt by people with disabilities. It’s a chance to honor each person’s uniqueness as “a natural and beautiful part of human diversity,” according to America’s Disability Community. To celebrate, we asked NYAC member EJ Valez to answer five questions about what disability pride means to him.
What does disability pride month mean to you?
The Americans with Disabilities Act, signed on July 26, 1990, gave people like me SOME rights. For example,
- increased access to voting by requiring accommodations to vote privately and independently,
- increased access to accessible, integrated, affordable housing and the services that support the community,
- and access to live a life without worry.
I’m able to go to college thanks to the ADA. I can access health care for my 6+ doctors (No, I’m not joking). This month, that day allowed me a chance to be here instead of in a facility. So this month is a month I can say I’m blind, and so what?
Why are you a member of the NYAC?
I do this work with the NN4Y because we as a country still don’t protect our youth. For children and adults with developmental disorders, electric shock devices in aversion therapy still exist and remain legal in the U.S. This month, a federal appellate court overturned the ban. One educational center for children with severe developmental disabilities in Massachusetts that manufactures and uses the devices challenged the ban in court, leading to the decision to overturn the ban.
Now imagine being a disabled youth and having laws like this, having nowhere to go and nowhere to turn. The rights of these youth are being stripped away. For people of any age, even in the best possible circumstances, institutions significantly increase the risk for abuse and neglect.
In addition, children and youth with special needs experience poorer outcomes when in foster care. Children in foster care may not receive adequate health or mental health care or appropriate educational support. They may bounce from foster home to foster home or be placed inappropriately in institutional settings.
Why should all organizations uplift the expertise and voices of youth?
A youth’s voice is all they have when everything else has been taken away. So they can share knowledge and experience. Youth need one person to allow them to be seen to make a change. By allowing youth to speak up, we will enable them to educate us. So we can do better.
If you had to share one thing with providers about youth experiencing homelessness and disability, what would that be?
Don’t assume a child is lying because they are disabled – this is the scariest thing for most people with disabilities in foster care. Instead, believe them and don’t discount what they are telling you because of their disability status.
See beyond a disability is not hard to do. It means seeing another person’s full potential while being aware of all the parts that make up that person. Seeing beyond is not ignoring. It is about accepting.
From what I’ve experienced, children and youth with disabilities are at higher risk for abuse or neglect.