March was Disability Awareness Month and Women’s History Month. Although March has come and gone, it was during that month that I had the opportunity to speak with one self-advocate about her thoughts on those celebrations. This month I spoke with another self-advocate about her thoughts and experiences as well.
Kristina and Lea Sue identify as women and self-advocates. We talked about self-advocacy, disability justice, and important women in their lives.
Kristina found a People First self-advocacy group in 2001 when she was trying to connect with community. Kristina enjoys the Marshall community and does volunteering and working in the area. In her free time, Kristina likes to read, go to the movies, create art, write, shop, and spend time with friends and family. Lea Sue found self-advocacy in 2014 after meeting another self-advocate on public transportation. Lea Sue helped to create a self-advocacy group in the Spring Lake Park area, and then merged the group with another self-advocacy group through The Arc Minnesota. In her free time, Lea Sue enjoys going to movies, participating in things related to self-advocacy, and spending time with family and friends.
I asked Kristina and Lea Sue, “What does self-advocacy mean to you as a woman and as a person with a disability?” Kristina shared that self-advocacy means being able to speak up for herself and to have her opinion noticed. Kristina added that it also means, “being able to talk about my disability.” Kristina is used to talking about disability. She has participated in diversity talks as a summer camp volunteer. This June will be Kristina’s 10-year anniversary in this volunteer role! Lea Sue also said self-advocacy means her voice is heard. She added that women have worked a long time to be where they are, and still there is inequality.
Kristina and Lea Sue shared about important women in their lives. Kristina shared, “My mom has made a difference in my life. I’m really close to her. She’s very understanding about my disabilities.” Kristina also mentioned that her grandmas, aunts, and sister-in-law are also important women in her life. Kristina has felt supported in her self-advocacy by her mom and the Marshall People First ally. Important women in Lea Sue’s life include her grandmother and aunt. Lea Sue shared that they are strong women who have encouraged Lea Sue to learn new things and reach goals.
Through self-advocacy, Lea Sue was able to become her own guardian and it has given her the confidence to raise her own family. Important women in Lea Sue’s life have supported her in self-advocacy work. Lea Sue said her grandmother and aunt were excited for Lea Sue and encouraged her to participate in Partners in Policymaking. When asked how self-advocacy has impacted her life, Kristina shared that it has allowed her to meet new friends, including people with disabilities. She has held the role of a SAM (Self-Advocates of Minnesota) representative and court reporter for a People First group. Kristina said self-advocacy has given her the ability to stick up for herself and to share with others.
When asked what disability justice means to her, Kristina talked about the importance of sticking up for yourself and sharing your opinion. She believes people should talk about disabilities and being out in the world. Lea Sue said disability justice means better support for people with disabilities in higher education. Lea Sue had pursued a higher education program and left the program due to lack of support. She told me that services like individual tutoring would have been helpful for staying in the program. Lea Sue also said that disability justice means that people with disabilities can get married and have families of their own.
To celebrate Disability Awareness Month in the future, Lea Sue suggested celebrating it “with open arms.” Lea Sue said she would like to see more inclusion of diverse people with disabilities, and she would like to learn how disability is viewed in different cultures.
It might be a couple months late for Disability Awareness Month and Women’s History Month, but thank you to Kristina and Lea Sue for giving us their thoughts and experiences related to these celebrations!
Written by Julia Lutz-Lawler