Later this month I’ll receive an award from a local group for disability advocacy work I do for children. I’m hoping to activate my listeners to initiate actions to make my town more inclusive. If they find it interesting and/or it helps them initiate action, I’m okay with those “I” words; just not so much with the “inspire” word that gets thrown around about people with disabilities way too much.

Here’s my three-minute rant:

Growing up blind gave me personal experiences of unequal access to information and to other good things of life. This fueled my passion to provide opportunities to people with disabilities. By being mainstreamed in public schools long before it was the norm, I learned to ask for what I needed like not playing volleyball in fourth grade. I asked to do more of the calculations and lab write-ups in chemistry class and less of the pouring of chemicals. These rudimentary self-advocacy skills were easily turned into advocating for others in the 19% of people who have disabilities. Educating strangers in how to help me meet my needs morphed into educating children and adults about disability issues. Add a handsome Seeing Eye dog by my side and the invites to do public education poured in from nursery schools to senior centers.

When I had the opportunity to start the American Library Association award for children’s books about the disability experience, I knew first hand that more good books were needed. From serving on non-profit boards I knew the need for the Access Eau Claire fund I started. To help meet access needs costs more sometimes. Non-profits can apply for a grant to help them serve all including people with disabilities.

As we approach the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, it’s important to look at who isn’t included in the good life in Eau Claire and how can we help make inclusion happen. We may have achieved most of the curb cuts, wider doors and bathroom changes we need, but we have a long way to go to equal access to information for people who are deaf or blind. Program access for people with a wide variety of disabilities needs improving.

Taking those next steps in providing access takes a Tehabi attitude. In case you haven’t met Tehabi yet, it’s a Hopi Katchina story doll. A Blind man carries a mobility-impaired man and the moral of the story is: you see for me; I’ll walk for you. Tehabi people ask what help is needed or wanted. They think about who’s not represented on the boards of decision makers and how can we get them there. Tehabi people know that although someone has a disability, they also have abilities. Tehabi people accept help as well as giving it because they know it’s not a one-way street. Tehabi people carry us all forward toward a richer more inclusive Eau Claire.

Thank you for being Tehabi people.

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