Finding Disability Pride with Allie and Andraéa

Image of Isaac, Allie and Andraea meeting virtually over Zoom. Isaac is a mixed race black man with short brown hair, glasses, grinning at camera. Allie is white disabled person smiling with her hands up. Andraea is a black disabled woman toward bottom of screen looking away from camera.

Read the Transcript

Andraéa LaVant:

“Look beyond just even the people that, that may rise to the top. When you look up disability rights, but start typing in things like blackness and disability, or, you know, LGBTQ movement and disability, things like that, so that you can really get the whole of those. And maybe not even disability, because a lot of times they’re just not even connected. So asking the questions and diving deeper, because a lot of, a lot of our history has been hidden specifically those folks that have played a significant role from intersectional disability representation. And again, I think once we know our history, then that does cultivate a sense of pride.”

Isaac Haney-Owens:

Today, Monday, August 9th, 2021, I’m interviewing my colleague Allie Cannington Manager of Advocacy and Organizing at the Kelsey and board member, Andrea LaVant, president and Chief Inclusion Consultant at LaVant Consulting to celebrate disability pride. We’ll better understand how intersectional identities can shape pride, learn about barriers holding us back, and the role of allies in co-leading efforts alongside of people with disabilities.

Isaac Haney-Owens:

So welcome to the leaders from the Inclusive Community Podcast. I’m excited to get this conversation going about disability pride, and I’d like to start with you, Andraéa and Allie. So to begin, Andraéa, can you tell me where you work and what you do there?

Andraéa LaVant:

Sure. I work, I lead a company called LaVant Consulting Incorporated. We are a strategy and communications firm and we specifically focus on disability inclusion-related topics.

Isaac Haney-Owens:

What kind of topics does your work focus on?

Andraéa LaVant:

Oh, that’s a great question. We do a variety of things. They include consulting with companies around their strategies for how they are including and working with, and marketing to disabled people. We do trainings that focus on everything from how to make your meetings accessible, to disability justice, to thinking about that from a race and disability perspective, and accommodations, and all types of things like that. And then we also have a focus on content marketing and communication. So supporting companies with their social media, with their newsletters and, you know, different things like that. Just kind of helping them think about how they, you know, engage with disabled people and also portray disability in the world. So our slogan is speak disability with confidence cause that’s what we support organizations in doing.

Isaac Haney-Owens:

And didn’t you recently join The Kelsey board?

Andraéa LaVant:

I did. I did.

Isaac Haney-Owens:

So and now, Allie, can you tell me where, and what you do at the Kelsey?

Allie Cannington:

Yeah. Thanks Isaac. For having me. My name is Allie Cannington, I’m the Manager of Advocacy and Organizing at The Kelsey and that looks like a lot of different things and it includes doing field building work to increase disabled leadership and participation across the housing field, doing state and federal advocacy at the intersection of disability rights and affordable, accessible, inclusive, and integrated housing. And I also get to work with you Isaac on a weekly basis. And that’s always fun. Usually I’m on the back end of this podcast. So honored to be in conversation with you and Andraéa today.

Isaac Haney-Owens:

A disability pride for me means celebrating who I am. What does it mean for both of you?

Andraéa LaVant:

I’m with you, Isaac, this is Andraéa. It, it means really, first of all, I think embracing who I am and the fullness of who I am, which means I’m kind of bringing all of who I am, which does include disability. It also includes being a black person. It also includes being a woman. So I know for me that for a lot of my life, it, I didn’t necessarily see disability as something that I could be, you know, proud of or, you know, value. I also didn’t realize that there was a whole community of people that felt that way. And I also didn’t know that there was, you know, so many people that were working to ensure that I could live, you know, the life that I wanted to live. And so I think with all of that coupled together, knowing that there were people, there’s a history, there’s a movement, there’s a culture. When you bring all that together, it’s, it’s something to be proud of, you know? So that’s what, what it means to me.

Allie Cannington:

Yeah. I resonate with a lot of what Andraéa, you just spoke to. And I think for me, disability, pride is ever-evolving. It’s something I continue to live out, but it’s, it’s always changing in terms of kind of just disability pride honoring, you know, as, as being a tool to honor my wholeness, disability, being a part of that multiple disabilities, being a part of that, as well as the other identities that I hold that are tied to people, led movements for justice and inclusion. And I also think, you know, and I’ll probably talk about this later, but I think when I was first taught about disability pride, I think I was given the, the definition that wasn’t, that wasn’t a full picture about what it means to be disabled. I think disability pride is not just like happy go lucky. I’m proud of being a part of this larger community. And I’m a pround I’m proud to have this politicized identity, but it’s also hard to have disabilities. And I think when I’ve been, when I’ve been experiencing more hardship in relation to my disability, I’ve questioned whether I have disability pride and I still to this day, think that disability pride is the spectrum of our relationship to disability. It doesn’t always have to be this like happy-go-lucky, I think of pride and I think of like parties and smiles and like, yes, that’s, that is a part of disability pride, and it’s much more complex and nuanced. And I’m trying to embrace that myself.

Isaac Haney-Owens:

I’m glad we’re talking about disability pride because I didn’t even know that that existed until recently I found out about it because I’ve always just known about the LGBTQ pride and always hear a lot about that, but never about disability pride. So I’m glad that we’re bringing it up and talking about a topic that’s not very talked about in, in our community.

Isaac Haney-Owens:

We talk a lot at The Kelsey about intersectional disabilities, things like being black and and disabled. Can each of you share a bit about how you think intersectional sectionality identities are part of disability pride and your own identities you’re proud of.

Andraéa LaVant:

Sure. Yes. So I think, you know, I mentioned it a little bit ago, but I, but I’m happy to go in to that a little bit more. I think that it really is important. And I think it speaks to what Allie was just saying. And there’s so many nuances when it comes to think identity and even looking at the whole of how disability has historically been kind of represented in the mainstream, in our society, who, who we see, you know, that are, are the types of, that are often portrayed, which, you know, traditionally has been physical, you know, and even the people that we see on platforms or the little bit that we see disability in media, which is very small, still like who is it? And it tends to be very white and very male. And so what I am appreciative of, you know, with the emergence of the framework of disability justice is acknowledging that we really do that we are not a monolithic group, which means that we don’t, you know, disability doesn’t look the same way for every, every person. And not only does it not look the same way and not only is it not experienced the same way, but because of the identities that we bring or that we have, it means that our experiences are very, very different. So my experience as a disabled, black woman is not going to be this and cis-gendered straight, right, black woman is not going to be the same as, you know what I know of my dear friend, Allie, who, you know, identifies as queer and is white. And so what that does mean though, is that we have an opportunity to even within the disability community, be allies to one another. And I think that that’s really important too, is that, you know, I think we all come into a space, especially within disability thinking that we all think the same way and have the same types of, you know, well, this is what I faced and this is what I faced. But the fact is that because of these, you know, the intersections that we have with our, with other aspects of culture, it shapes how we think, it shapes how we’re treated in a space, and so much more. And so I’m grateful that we are getting there. And even just your asking that question really speaks to the fact that, you know, these, this is at the forefront of our conversations within disability focused movements.

Allie Cannington:

Yeah. Yeah. I, I believe it was Audre Lorde who said, like, there’s no such thing as a single issue, struggle because we do not live single issue lives. And that applies to all humans and in the context of disability, it has been necessary in order to achieve our collective mission of like full inclusion and equity that we look that, that I continue to think about how my intersectional identities inform how I move through the world. And that includes, you know, my, my whiteness, my queerness, my class, my disability, my religion or spirituality and so on. And so for me, I’ll just speak, you know, to briefly one is I think, as going off a little bit of what Andrea was speaking to as a white disabled person, it’s been really critical for me to think about what that means in the context of, of being in the society, but also particularly working in disability rights, movement spaces.

Allie Cannington:

And for me, that has meant how do I hold my self and my white, disabled colleagues accountable for racial, for racial justice, for disability solidarity, and how can, what decisions can I make in the daily ways, as well as large ways that can shift the power of our movement so that it looks less like me, and more like the majority of the disability community, which are not white chair users like myself in terms of my queerness. I’m I feel like it’s such a gift to be disabled and as both of those identities continue to give myself permission, to think outside the box and be outside the box and how I relate to myself and how I create relationships, whether that be romantic or sexual, or just chosen family and people I care about in, in community.

Isaac Haney-Owens:

And then one thing we have to do, if you have to educate people that disabilities are not always visual, there are some times there are people out there who are disabled. They have, you can’t see. So we need to let people know that there are those types of disabilities. So people don’t say that since, say for some, say, for instance like me, they’ll say to me, I’m your able body. You can get around on your own. You’re not disabled because your visible disability is not visible. And that’s something that we need to change so that everyone just buddies is looked at as disabled, no matter if their disabilities, are visible, or not.

Andraéa LaVant:

Absolutely

Allie Cannington:

A hundred percent.

Isaac Haney-Owens:

What are the barriers that today still get in the way of disability pride?

Andraéa LaVant:

Feel free to go first.

Allie Cannington:

Well, I would have to say, you know, Isaac, you spoke to earlier about how you only recently learned that disability pride was a thing. Like that’s still just enrages me because not, it doesn’t have to do with you. It, it, what I’m, what I am angry about is that we live in, in a society where that’s where the norm is that people don’t know that disability pride exists in that. And most importantly, that people living with disabilities or don’t know that there is a community there’s communities, there are, there is a movement of people who want to and are here to welcome them as, as their whole selves, disability being a part of that. And that it’s not an, and so I think one of the barriers is the fact that we have yet to reach all people who are equally worthy of, of having access to this, this knowledge and these new ways of seeing ourselves and, and, and thinking about ourselves.

Allie Cannington:

I mean, I remember being 17 and, and being exposed to, you know, I arrived at this leadership program for youth with disabilities. And I remember hearing everyone yell like we’re here, we’re loud, we’re disabled and proud. And I remember being like, what the heck is this? Like, what am I about to get into? I, you know, I do not want to be here because I’ve been told that my disability is both of my disabilities are inherently wrong, and I felt so much shame. But once I heard that and then was exposed to people, celebrating disability as a part of human diversity and an identity and a movement, I was my whole world transformed and not enough people get access to that information. And that knowledge that can really change how people relate to themselves and to the world. And, and I’ll stop there. But I think that’s a huge, that’s a barrier. And yet, like, I think the work of the Kelsey, I think the work of Lavant consulting and Andrea and, and the work of so many of our comrades across the country and world are helping to make disability pride, more accessible to people who haven’t yet haven’t historically had as much access.

Andraéa LaVant:

Yes. All of that, all of that. I think the thing that I would add without kind of repeating is one of the things that we talk about a lot in the work that we do is around the need to see yourself around representation. Because when you don’t see yourself reflected in day-to-day life, you know, from a media perspective, like when you turn on the TV, when you scroll through social media, when things are literally just not accessible to you. So when you access a website or you go on Instagram and you can’t view IGT video, because it have TV video, because it doesn’t have capsules or whatever, it’s, it’s sending messages, whether it’s subliminal or otherwise, that are basically saying, I’m not valuable. I’m not worth anybody’s time. I’m not worth, you know, investment. I’m not worth being included. Right. And so when you get those messages, because you’re because of lack of representation or, you know, your needs being addressed or acknowledged, then you essentially, there comes shame, right.

Andraea LaVant:

There comes basically self-loathing and, you know, things of that nature, able, internalized ableism where, you know, we’re saying, and so that’s pretty much the opposite of feeling like you can be proud of who you are. And so to that, basically, you know, the challenge is for those that are in spaces that can ensure that we do see ourselves and that, you know, are the things that we’re putting out are accessible to people. And that we are creating environments and spaces and experiences that are inclusive of all manner of disabilities. And that essentially allow people to be their fullest selves. That’s when, you know, we can go, okay, wow. I am valuable. You know, I am worthy. I am whole, and I, and I’m proud.

Isaac Haney-Owens:

What is a moment of a moment or experience in the last year, or when you felt like disability pride was really strong, or that was a big win for disability pride?

Andraéa LaVant:

Well, I would have to say so I led the, the impact team for Netflix is Crip camp, which was produced for the Obamas. And I mean, I can’t dance around the fact that being on the Oscars red carpet, you know, was a huge win for our community, specifically as a black, physically disabled woman that had a service dog, you know, all of that in and of itself, to me, not because I’m anything special, but because of the fact that the work of the community coming together allowed, what, what I just said, which is for people to see themselves, you know, I got so many messages from folks just saying, you know, thank you for representing me. And so I think it speaks to that, that concept of when we see ourselves, we feel valuable and we can be proud. That’s definitely my win for the year.

Allie Cannington:

I love this question, Isaac. Thank you. I think, I think I’m going to answer this question. So my, I think wins this this year. And I think always is often like in the small moments where small, but mighty moments where to Sable people, support each other and support each other to reach their goals, whatever that may be. And that those, when those goals are reached, it’s in part because disabled people supported each other and disability was honored as well as the other, like critical parts of, of each of us. So for example, like multiple people who are like multiple marginalized, disabled people in my life got new jobs this year, or moved out of a place that was not accessible to them into a new, into a, an apartment that was more accessible moments where there was there that I developed new relationships with disabled people through the internet, through virtual events, because you know, now more than ever, we have more of those spaces. And I think each of those relationships and wins helped me to see like a broader flow of like disability, pride being more possible, more attainable. It doesn’t mean that, you know, there’s not there so much work to be done, but if I don’t count these little wins and these relationships and these individuals who I care deeply for who reached their, some of their goals, like all I’ll see are the losses and the lack of, of disability pride. So those are feel like big wins.

Isaac Haney-Owens:

Both of you are professionals doing really great work and community impact. How did pride shape the work you do, or your growth as professionals, any advice for people early in their career?

Andraéa LaVant:

So advice for people early in their careers. I think that I, I know that I was personally, and I think we can look back. All of us have different things that we may regret, you know, and one of the things that I did not start kind of in this work around disability until I was in my late twenties, I didn’t know. I had no idea about the disability rights movement and the concept of disability pride and all of that. And so had, I, I don’t think that I could have done much about it at the time, but I would say, you know, if somebody ultimately has access to this right, then it means that somehow they’ve come up, come up, cross it in such a way that I would say, you know, whatever you can do to be, get connected to community, you know, not just the resources, not just the things that your VOC rehab counselor or your parents may show you, because those oftentimes are not really sort of a matter of fact, in a way that isn’t, it’s thinking about your whole life and what you desire.

Andraéa LaVant:

But I think it’s really about, yeah. Getting connected to community now, social media is such a great way to do it. You don’t have to leave your home. It’s kinda going on whatever platform you enjoy and seeing what, whether it’s Facebook or Twitter or whatever, and engaging in conversation and learning. And then, you know, it’s really not just, I would’ve, if you would’ve asked me this five years ago, I would say, you know, ‘learn disability history’. But I think you have to, even, because for me, that was a big thing, was learning about, you know, people that we know about from the disability rights movement. What I, what I say now is to dig even deeper than that and look beyond just even the people that, that may rise to the top when you look up disability rights, but start typing in things like blackness and disability, or, you know, LGBTQ movement and disability, things like that, so that you can really get the whole of those. And maybe not even disability, because a lot of times they’re just not even connected. So asking the questions and diving deeper, because a lot of, a lot of our history has been hidden specifically those folks that have played a significant role from intersectional disability representation. And again, I think once we know our history, then that does cultivate a sense of pride. So those are my things find community and, kind of learn your history.

Allie Cannington:

I would just also say that if I’m, if I’m sharing to someone who is early in their career to give yourself permission, to always be growing and be curious about yourself and how you, how your multiple identities and experiences inform the world around you and that your, that disability pride, that disability, that, that, you know, your, that all of those things are ever evolving. And sometimes it’s important to both play a role where you put yourself in, in maybe some newer situations, you listen to new voices that you hadn’t necessarily heard and growing up, or you, or you speak up in, in new and unexpected ways. So I’m speaking broadly. But I think just, and to remember that, like, even in moments where you feel alone, there, there you are connected to a diverse, like stunning, innovative, magnificent web of disabled people of all different backgrounds and identities who are with you, even if you don’t feel it in that moment. And that relationships always can be built and can be nurtured. And that also will, is a continued process, but those relationships to yourself and to others is how is, is how we make it through in this world. And hopefully not just make it through, but thrive and celebrate all of who we are. Disability being a part of that.

Isaac Haney-Owens:

The Kelsey is a co-lead co-lead by people with, and without disabilities, how can allies better support or be part of the disability pride movement? So this, you can go first with answering this Allie.

Allie Cannington:

Well, I would say first that I would, I would ask anyone who is interested in any topic, housing included. If you are not asking yourself how disability fits into the solutions to that particular issue, then you are missing the mark. And I invite you to really interrogate how disability and access along with racial and economic justice is essential to any topic, any issue that you are working on. I think a lot of people who want to be an allyship understandably get, I think, really caught up in what’s the right thing to do. What’s the right word to say, or what’s the, you know, anyways though, get, get really kind of anxious about all those different nuances. And I would just say to all of those questions around language that actually may end up being barriers to people getting involved. My answer is like follow the lead of the person or people with disabilities you are relating to. And if they’re using certain language and you are non-disabled in the space, like you want to defer to, to those individuals and that, and the answers to the given question at hand, maybe different for each individual, like, as Andrea said, we are not a monolith in any way. We it’s such a diverse, diverse, diverse population, but I think those questions around language can often just get in the way of people being present and listening and centering disability voices. And then the relationship building necessary to really create allyship becomes really challenging.

Andraéa LaVant:

Yeah. I don’t know, honestly, Allie really summed it up really well. I think, you know, the big thing is to ask yourself, who’s not in the room and create and speak up about it and then create this space, do whatever you can to make sure, but in the future, they are there. So that at the end of the day. No one knows their needs better than the people that are actually experiencing it.

Isaac Haney-Owens:

If you could say, say something to a person who was newly disabled or someone being identified as a person with disabilities, what would you say to help them on their journey to finding pride?

Andraéa LaVant:

Well, I must, I think about a statement that a friend and colleague of ours, Rebecca Cokley says a lot, and that is welcome. We’re glad you’re here. We’ve been waiting for you. And it’s the truth. You’re if you have entered or perhaps are identifying as a part of a community of the largest minority group in the world, which means we are so diverse, which means there is so much space for you. There’s so much value for who you are and we need you. We really do, because I would say, well, I know that there is so much more to be done. And with every person added every day to our community, it makes it, it’s just the fact that like we’re stronger together. With that, hopefully, that would spark in them the, the desire to, you know, be in dazed. I remember when I started in this work, my boss at the time said to me, you know, I got very excited because I was learning about people like Judy Huemann and Ed Roberts and all these, you know, folks in the movement.

Andraéa LaVant:

And I’m like, oh, wow, I didn’t know about this. I didn’t know that I could be proud and excited. And, you know, she said to me that everybody’s going to be excited off the bat. Not everyone is gonna, you know, be like, you know, balloons and streamers about disability because disability is not always easy. It’s not easy quite honestly. And, and there are hard days and there are, you know, and so I think there, what we do have to do a better job as within the community is, is the acknowledgement that we’re not all at the same place and that you, we all have our own lived experiences and our own kind of way of, of really coming into or acknowledging, or whether you embrace it or not. It’s just know that we are here, you know, and when, and if you decide to engage more deeply with the community, there’s definitely room for you, those of us are waiting and value you for who you are.

Allie Cannington:

I think I spoke to this a bit earlier, so I would just echo the welcome. And I think about one of my favorite poems of all time, “You get proud by practicing” by a disabled poet Laura Hershey. It really speaks to the need of practicing pride, practicing, feeling empowered in our whole selves, disability, being a part of that, because we’ve been conditioned to believe the exact opposite. I would just send the link to that poem and, and tell those folks to follow people on social media, like Andraea, like our friend and colleague Alice Wong and the Disability Visibility Project and Crip camp and organizations like HEARD: Helping Educate to Advance the Rights of the Deaf. So many other organizations that are led for, and by disabled people, particularly disabled people who are racialized in this country and know that like your story is a part of this really again, like stunning fabric of, of our world. And I think that the things that often we’ve been told to be ashamed about in terms of our, how our bodies and minds function, the world often is where the most innovation comes from.

Isaac Haney-Owens:

For my last question I’d like to hear from you both on what you want to make home for more of Home for More is our tagline at the Kelsey. And it represents that there are many opportunities and ways to advance housing. What would you like to make Home for More? And you can answer this first Allie.

Allie Cannington:

I think, I mean, obviously home for more disability pride. And I, when I think about worlds where disability pride is more accessible and represented, it represented in like such diverse ways. I think about how that can be, that can come to reality through the Kelsey’s are in our future communities and buildings that are going to be actually like living and breathing spaces where people can bring people of all different identities and backgrounds and disabilities and people without disabilities can come together and have the opportunity to really see each other and celebrate each other. And I’m sorry, I stole that one Andraea.

Andraéa LaVant:

That was a good one. I mean, I would just add, you know, home some more, I, I guess I’ll keep with what I’ve been talking about today, which is representation, disability, representation, more spaces of belonging, which, I mean, alludes it’s similar to what Allie said, more spaces where we can feel home, where we can feel at home in our housing communities, whether that’s at our jobs, you know, places of employment, whether that is, you know, and recreational spaces, whether that’s feeling, you know, even more like we belong when we turn on the television or scroll through social media or all of that, just more places where we know that we are valued and that we belong.

Allie Cannington:

Isaac, can I ask, what about you? What would you say you’d like Home for More of?

Isaac Haney-Owens:

Home for More acceptance. Cause we’re not always accepted in this society. We need people to really understand that disability are, there’s a broad spectrum of different disabilities. And just because you don’t look disabled doesn’t mean you, it doesn’t mean you are. And I want to see more people acknowledged that disabilities aren’t visual and they’re sometimes they’re not always seen. And, and for me, I would like people to knowledge that I’m, don’t the knowledge that I’m disabled because not because I’m disabled, just because I am able-bodied doesn’t mean I am a neuro-typical person.

Allie Cannington:

Absolutely.

Isaac Haney-Owens:

Thanks for listening. For more information on The Kelsey or to check out more of my podcast episodes, visit thekelsey.org. If you have a topic you’d like me to explore or a person to interview, email me at isaac@hekelsey.org. Goodbye.

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