From the CEO: Disability as an Identity

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Overhead shot of six disabled people of color at a rooftop deck party. An Indigenous Two-Spirit person with a prosthetic leg smiles directly at the camera and gives a thumbs up while everyone else is engaged in conversation.

Photo credit: Disabled and Here

One of the transitions I needed to make when first working with AWS Foundation was to challenge my more than 30 years of training and mindset regarding disabilities. My perspective of disability was too often through the lens of a medical professional. Deafness, Down syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, Spinal Cord Injury, Lowe Syndrome, and dozens of others were all “conditions” I had seen throughout my career as a nurse and hospital administrator. What I know now is that disability is a natural part of the human experience. Disability is a minority group that any of us could join at any time.

Disability can be an array of medical conditions. Many disability attributes are identified through the medical system and are classified with a “diagnosis.” The problem with this approach is that it can lead to the mindset that disability is a problem that needs to be cured. This approach focuses more on the person’s deficits than on potential.

Disability can be a medical condition, but it is so much more. Disability is a part of every sector of our community. Rather than something to be cured, we need to address it as an attribute of the people in our cities, towns, and neighborhoods.

Disability can be a part of hunger, poverty, and homelessness. Disability is also a successful part of employment, volunteerism, and creativity.

Each part of our community interfaces with the disabled, not just healthcare providers and social service agencies.

Those with a disability are all too often not given the opportunity to achieve more or to offer their entire self to their cities and townships, schools and employers, symphonies and museums, and every part of their community.

AWS Foundation was proud to fund the recent PBS Documentary “The Forgotten,” airing on Fort Wayne TV 39 Monday, September 26 at 9pm (encores coming in October). This moving production profiles the history of what started as “The School for Feeble-Minded Youth” to the “Fort Wayne State Developmental Center.”

During the almost two hours special we see the image of disability as a population deserving hospitalization and institutionalization. Their existence was too often met with pity, neglect, and isolation. This documentary paints, in a “Ken Burns-like format,” the picture of how things used to be and touches on how we are evolving.

AWS Foundation and the hundreds of organizations we help fund, are working to dismantle the charity model of disability. We are all working to reimagine a region of accommodation, inclusion, opportunity, and diversity. Join us!