»

Presenting About #DisabilityTooWhite at the Disability & Intersectionality Summit

Leave a Comment

Image of my PowerPoint presentation slide with the following text in white bold font: #DisabilityTooWhite, Disability Community and Its Diversity Problem. My credentials are written at the bottom in small font.

On November 5th, I conducted my first presentation about the #DisabilityTooWhite hashtag and ways White disabled advocates can step up and address the over-whiteness matter within the community at the Disability and Intersectionality Summit in Boston, Massachusetts.  It was the first non-social work/helping professional presentation I gave, as well as the first summit I attended that focused exclusively on the disabled experience.  In Boston, I had the incredible opportunity to meet fellow disabled advocates and friends that I absolutely respect and appreciate.  It was my first time in Boston (and the northernmost I have travelled), and thoroughly enjoyed myself.  

Why Doing the #DisabilityTooWhite Presentation Mattered

Since the hashtag went viral in May, I have been brainstorming how to keep the conversation going about the diversity issue in our community.  Challenging the status quo regarding whose voices, stories, and images are valued and visible in our community is one of the many goals I have for my advocacy work.  The over-whiteness and erasure are what propelled me to established this platform, and I knew firsthand how damaging the lack of representation can be on those of us within this margin.  

The Disability and Intersectionality Summit is the first of its kind where disabled people of color and our voices dominated.  It was created by my dear friend Sandy Ho (who is my OI sister), a woman of color who also understood that shaking up the norm in our community has to be done.  When I was asked if I would consider applying to present at the Summit, I was deeply honored – there was no way I could say no to being a part of an event created by one of us.  I knew that discussing the hashtag at DIS would be perfect, and I was absolutely thrilled that my proposal was selected.  

The Reactions to the Presentation

My presentation was for Whites – disabled and non-disabled.  Why?  People of color are well aware of the racism and invisibility issue, and I wanted to express to my White peers that impact.  I knew that I had to take a very direct tone, and be very purposeful with my message.  I was not going to coddle feelings or mince words; I knew how critical it was to use those 20 minutes fully to get the message I had to share out and to be heard clearly.  

In my presentation, I called out problematic White leadership and used one particular leader as the poster child of what that looked like.  I made sure to reiterate that our community and organizational cultures are racist; a truth we attempt to bypass that hurts us more than helps.  I adamantly shared that this over-whiteness problem must be fixed by Whites because it was created by Whites, and that Whites needed to use their white privilege and voices in their efforts.  

My demeanor was serious, frank, and had some subtle (yet professional) hints of shade (a former professor of mine dubbed this as being “sophisti-petty”).  I am passionate about this problem, and wanted others to feel that emotion with my words and the images I displayed.  I could tell, and were told, that some were uncomfortable with the truth.  There were mumblings for certain parts of my presentation, which I knew would occur.  However, the responses I received about it was phenomenal – people, especially advocates I respect, shared quotes from my presentation on Twitter and Facebook.  Receiving that kind of praise reassured me that the goal I set for myself was achieved; I had did good.  I particularly knew I did good when folks mumbled; time to face the reality and get to work in extinguishing this problem.  

The Experience to Being at a Summit Led & Dominated by Disabled People of Color

Being among trailblazing disabled people of color, learning from them, and meeting them was incredible.  I was very empowered and inspired to see such brilliance sharing their realities, and demanding that we start paying attention to what is happening to members within many marginalizations in our community.  I was very pleased to have been present, and to play a role in this moment.  I am truly ecstatic about how DIS will grow, and the dynamic voices that will present there in future Summits.  Being a part of the inaugural class is a privilege I had, and I hope I will be able to travel to Boston again next year.  

Final Thoughts

It goes without saying that we need more spaces and events like DIS.  The success of the Summit showed disabled people of color are willing to establish spaces and events that others refuse to acknowledge that need to exist.  Disability organizations should take note at how heavily supported and attended DIS was – no longer can excuses be uttered surrounding the misperception that diverse platforms will not be well-received or are not needed.  Disabled people of color showed up and showed out at DIS, and I am proud to have been in that class of awesomeness.  

If you continue to ignore us, we will find ways to be heard – that is my takeaway for DIS, and I am sure others feel the same.  

About Vilissa Thompson, LMSW

Vilissa is the Founder & CEO of Ramp Your Voice!, an organization she created to establish herself as a Disability Rights Consultant & Advocate. Ramp Your Voice! is a prime example of how macro-minded Vilissa truly is, and her determination to leave a giant "tire track mark" on the world.

Leave a Reply