Episode 2 with Jennifer Longdon Transcript
Keith: This episode of Disability Empowerment Now contains mentions of child sexual abuse, sexual assault, gun violence, and hospital abuse and neglect. This is Disability Empowerment Now. I’m your host, Keith Murfee-DeConcini. I’m here today interviewing Jennifer Longdon, an Arizona House Representative from District 24. Jennifer, welcome to the podcast.
Jennifer: Well, hi Keith, thank you for inviting me to join you. I’m excited for our conversation today.
Keith: So am I! We are long-time friends, but why don’t you tell our listeners who you are and your relationship to disability rights?
Sure. Well, let’s just start there. That’s probably the easiest place. So my name’s Jennifer Longdon. I live in Phoenix, Arizona. Uh, I was paralyzed 18 years ago. My, the anniversary of my injury was just this week. Uh, I was shot in a random shooting and, uh, paralyzed at the T4 areas. So, um, about a hands width down from my collarbone. At the same time, my fiance was shot in the head and sustained a traumatic brain injury and acquired blindness. Um, so I instantly received, uh, across disability orientation, if you will. And since our injuries, I was his primary caregiver after we were released from our respective hospitals and rehabilitation centers.
And since that time I’ve found that the world isn’t designed for people with disabilities.
Keith: No it is not, unfortunately.
Jennifer: Exactly and so I began working first on just getting the care and treatment that each of us needed for survival. And then recognizing that laws were being passed, uh, policies at state agencies that made our life harder. And I, uh, became more and more active in self-advocacy and public policy ultimately leading to me being elected, um, three years ago to serve in the Arizona house.
So I’m in the middle of my second term in office. I can have four and I’m now the assistant democratic leader. There are now wheelchair-accessible public toilets on every floor of this building, all four floors. There was a single toilet available when I came in and there is a wheelchair ramp to the speaker’s dais, which didn’t exist. Hadn’t even been considered before I got here and became an active member of the house. So I believe all in all. I represent disability. I represent advocacy by participation and I’m really happy to be here serving Arizona and advocating for the disability community writ large.
Keith: That’s wonderful to hear. Now, you have a very close professional relationship with the speaker of the Arizona House, which in these polarizing political times is very unique. How did that come about?
Jennifer: Well, first it’s sad that something like that is unique. Well politics at this level is about relationships. Advocacy is about forming a relationship it’s about, you know, bringing someone to see your point of view and then working from that position to find answers and solutions. At its best, we should be able to argue on the floor from our perspectives and then enjoy, um, at least the civil relationship off of the floor and politics have become increasingly more divisive and polarizing. I think that since the beginning of my term, so three years ago when I first came to the house as a member-elect and met the speaker, I have found him to be cordial and open to supporting the disability community. Now he’s still a Republican and I’m a Democrat. We vote against each other. There are times when we can be very, um, passionate in our opposition to the other’s point of view. But I think that it’s, it’s a matter of respectful dialogue and trying to stay in a fact-based conversation and avoid too much hyperbole. Politics is also a little bit about hyperbole, but I think that there’s some mutual respect and an understanding that while we don’t agree that each of us from our individual points of view have the best interests of Arizona at heart. And I enjoy a good relationship with, I believe almost everyone in the house or a few folks that are a little prickly, but I don’t believe with limited exception, I believe I could walk up or roll up and have a conversation with just about anyone about the weather or their kids, or other things. And that’s missing at this point in politics.
Keith: Yeah. If you think just back a few decades that wasn’t missing, uh, like it is today. It’s really unfortunate. So I was\born with cerebral palsy. I’m a lifelong disability community member, uh, whether I like it or not. Uh, but as you mentioned in your intro, you came into the disability community through no fault of your own. And so how was it adapting to a new way of living?
Jennifer: Well, uh, there’s a whole lot to unpack there. Um, so first, you know, obviously I had to deal with the grief and shock of our injuries. Of the violence that was perpetrated upon us. About what that meant. Um, and you know, initially I dealt with loss, I dealt with the loss of my able-bodied self, my typically able self. I lost custody of my child because of my disability. I lost my health insurance. I’d lost, you know, any surety I had in my life. I lost my job. All of these things happened. As I grew into my disability and learning new ways to do things, I also had to confront my own ableism. And that’s been a long and frustrating and frankly, many times, embarrassing exercise. And there are still probably moments, you know, bias gets so wrapped up inside of your life that it’s a constant exercise of examining your actions and your viewpoints and your initial reactions or instincts, or prejudices, for bias of all types. And so I’ll continue to do that for the rest of my life. And I think, I think that’s a great exercise for all of us to be doing. You know, why, why do I feel this way about that thing? Um, yeah, so dealing with my able bias. My own ingrained ableism has been a thing and, uh, I’ve been able to deal with a lot of that through interactions with a broader disability community and getting involved in the independent living movement through my local center for independent living here in Phoenix, that’s Ability 360, it’s the largest in the state of Arizona, but one of five. The Center for Disability Law, the statewide independent living council, and also, as I said when we began, I became my then-fiance’s caregiver for a number of years and he lives with a significant traumatic brain injury and blindness. And so I got involved in those communities as well and learned a lot about what privilege means. And I think that you don’t-privilege like air in a room, you don’t notice if you have it until it’s missing. Once I lost my able privilege, it created a space for me to examine all of the other ways in which I was privileged and allowed me to gain more empathy. And I hope understanding, of folks who live with the impact of being on the wrong side of any type of privilege, white privilege, male privilege, able privilege, socioeconomic privilege, et cetera.
Keith: That’s all very important to keep in mind. So how you got disabled inspired or motivated your stance in gun violence prevention and thats critical But another area that I’ve observed is your stance on women issues and sexual abuse prevention which is incredibly important now more than ever. That we are paying so much more attention to it is shocking and sad that it’s taken this long to become recognized as the serious issue that it always has been. Tell me more about your work in that area or those areas.
Jennifer: So I was, uh, sexually assaulted as a child on the victim of childhood sexual abuse. As a very young woman, I also was raped and I used those experiences, again, kind of universalized these things that happen in my life to recognize that if they’re happening to me, they’re happening to others. And what can we do about that? How can we support each other? Who folks who have survived, sexual violence in this particular case, and how can we prevent it and young people and adults, and it’s not just females, it’s not just females who are sexually assaulted. This also happens to boys and men. So we need to deal with this overall. It is prevalent to victimize one gender over the other, but it happens across all gender identities. So that’s been an important piece of work for me. As I became an adult, I began to speak up about my own childhood abuse and I thought that I was inoculated. That after having gone through years of therapy and lots of work as an advocate, I thought maybe I’d been inoculated against sexual violence. So when I was raped as an adult woman, that was very difficult because, you know, it’s like, why is this happening to me, yet again? It started a whole new journey of, you know, how did these things happen? And, you know, I was a martial artist, even at that time-No, not yet-I’m sorry, I was not yet involved in martial arts, but I was a strong and assertive young woman. I was healthy. I, you know, I should have prevented it, in my own mind. My inability to do so sparked a whole nother round of well, frankly therapy, but self-examination and work in this particular area of advocacy and prevention.
And then that has grown into the work that I’m doing as a legislator on abuse and neglect in long-term care facilities. And that comes out of sexual violence against a woman who is in a low consciousness state from a near-drowning in her childhood. She had been repeatedly and violently raped over the course of this period of time that she’s been on a respirator and in a low consciousness state her entire, nearly her entire life. We know about her sexual assault, repeated sexual assault, because it resulted in the live birth of her son. I was outraged that well, that that had happened to her, but even more so, as an adult woman who has given birth, there are significant and profound changes that happen to a person’s body when they are pregnant. And that she required constant care. So someone bathed her, fed her, changed her, turned her, dressed her, repositioned her constantly. She was examined routinely, someone had to listen to bowel sounds on a regular basis, take her blood pressure, all of these sorts of things. And yet through all of this, through dealing with her bowel care, with her bladder care, with her menses, with all of the other things that all of the other intimate care that this person received: No one recognized her pregnancy until the baby started crowning-until the baby was partially born. That is horrific abuse and neglect. I am not forgiving the sexual assault, not in any way, but it is compounded by institutional neglect and an institutional leaning to look the other way that allowed it to go as far as it did.
Keith: Absolutely, I remember reading about it and being absolutely disgusted and horrified by it. And knowing that it’s not a one-off scenario. But even if it was, one person suffering that kind of abuse is more than enough. But I mean, the level of detail that we gleaned from that case, even if we’re talking about two different cases, which I don’t think we are but I mean, it’s so prevalent and people will just use any excuse to take advantage. So certain people will use any and every excuse they can even if they have none, and they should have none, to take advantage of someone else.
Jennifer: Right. So in this particular case, we had a sexual predator and that is one crime, but this person was allowed to move freely through this facility for years. Had access to this particular resident of the facility. And, you know, I’m going to tell you cynically if there was one, there were probably more. But we don’t know that with certainty, that is speculation, but it doesn’t take a lot of extrapolation to get there. This predator moved through this space. And I get it, predators if they were wearing a neon sign that said, “Hello, I’m a rapist,” there might be more roadblocks in the way. But the system failed every person who got a weird sense that he was doing something wrong, who didn’t follow up, who didn’t check in. That she wasn’t monitored more closely, that her parents had talked about how previously she had been sexually assaulted at some point previous to this during her residency and long-term care and asked that she receive care only from female caregivers. Yet, this person became her night nurse for an extended period of time as I recall. That’s a system that has failed and failed. If not criminally then ethically. The whole idea that her body could undergo such profound changes and no one involved in her intimate care or in her routine medical examinations recognized at all these changes in her body, or if they did, didn’t find them to rise to the level of, “Hey, something’s wrong here and I should speak up.”
Keith: It’s just listening to you recount what I read previously it’s just all the more shocking. I mean doctors and nurses, who you assume were trained to recognize the signs. Because they were handling everything else for this woman who was in a low conscience state. And the fact that, as you just said, they just didn’t find that what was happening to this woman as concerning its the most appalling thing. Because they had the training they should have been the first ones to recognize the signs and raise the alarms and you’re right, that is abuse and neglect.
Jennifer: Yes, in this particular case, and I’ve said it in public hearings, she became a checklist. She became a checklist for someone every day of care items that they had taken care of. They robbed her of her humanity. She was no longer seen as a daughter or sister or just a person. She was a bed with a checklist that someone needed to do before they moved on to the next one. Uh, and those are the issues that I have dedicated my time in the legislature to working on. She had no one to speak up-well, let me rephrase that. she has a family that loves her very much, but she was because of the nature of the way we distribute this type of care she was far away from her family. They didn’t have the ability to be with her every day. So she was taken from a place where she would be surrounded by loved ones placed in this care facility through necessity, by the type of care that she needed. Then abused, neglected, and the system just treated her horribly. So I feel that my job is to speak up for the folks who don’t have a strong advocate speaking up for them. And that’s what I’ve dedicated my legislative career to doing, is working on this particular issue. Now, again, if this were easy, it’d be done by now we’re unraveling layers and layers and layers of bureaucracy, profit margins, the way things have always been done, stigma, misinformation, ignorance, and downright maliciousness. And in the case of a predator who would take advantage of folks that they considered vulnerable. So the system doesn’t want to be unraveled overall. So there’s a lot of work to be done.
Keith: Yes, there certainly is. Uh, I know from your lived experience, uh, that must have pushed you to try to create the change that you wanted to see in politics. Was political ambition always something you were interested in as a young person or was your lived experience what pushed you to become a political advocate for so many important issues?
Jennifer: Well, I didn’t plan to find myself here in elected office. I never would have foreseen that in my life. Um, as a young person, you know, I believed in the power of voting. I believed in working for candidates I believed in. In the way back, I came here to Phoenix from Chicago. So in the way, way back, I marched with many other women against Henry Hyde, who was from Chicago, the Hyde amendment. You know, in terms of reproductive justice, the Hyde amendment says that federal money can’t be used for providing abortion services.
I did that, but I’ve lived my life. I haven’t been-I wouldn’t say that I ever was a person who would eat, sleep and breathe politics. I stayed aware of current events. I donated to candidates. I worked on, some campaigns, mostly issues. And it was only when my own survival, my fiance’s survival, was on the line that I really became what I would say, a full-time advocate. And that led to, ultimately to political office. The more and more I spent time at the Capitol advocating, the more I learned about the system, learned how to work within the system, the political system, and when this seat that I ultimately hold now, when this seat, house seat and legislative district 24 opened….So there are two, for a quick lesson for anyone. In Arizona, there are 15 counties, there are 30 legislative districts and every district has one state Senator and two members of the Arizona House of Representatives. We serve, two-year terms and we can serve four consecutive terms in any chamber at a time.
So when this seat became open, the one that I currently hold, I really started advocating. Someone needs to run for this. Someone needs to run for those that understand the issue of gun violence and women’s rights. Someone needs to run for this who is going to speak for the disability community. I need to know that the next person to hold this seat is going to see me and care about the issues that are important to me. And I started getting phone calls that said, “Jen, you’re someone”.
And ultimately decided that yep I was going to be the person to run for this seat. And here I sit, it was a tough primary. Uh, I was an underdog during my primary, there was a whisper campaign if you will. Some folks who were supporting other candidates who would talk to people who found me sympathetic and say, you know, “Jen’s a really nice person and she cares, but you know, aren’t you worried, she might be too fragile? Don’t you worry about her health?” You know, “she said on Facebook just the other day that it took her an hour to put on shoes. Don’t you worry that she won’t be able to be there when we need her to vote”. Without recognizing that yeah, there are days, it takes me an hour to put on my shoes, but I know that, and I build an hour of shoe putting on into my schedule every day.
People with disabilities are tenacious. We are resilient. We are innovative. We are problem solvers. We are diplomats and communicators because we’ve needed each of those skills in order to survive to get to the place we are now. And that’s also a message I carry, not only to my colleagues but to employers Google and Amazon, and all of these others interview for soft skills first. The ability to join the team and understand the company culture. And then they look at the hard skills like can you add, or can you code or, you know, can you drive a truck or whatever that might be? Um, because those hard skills can be learned. It’s the soft skills that they find, uh, create either unity or division, uh, within their working units.
And the exact things that they’re screening for looking for describes the disability community to a T. As I said, tenaciousness, innovation, problem-solving, looking at things outside of the box, the ability to communicate, the ability to be diplomatic. I mean, if you’ve ever had to negotiate with the caregiver about any part of your care you understand something about diplomacy, about being clear about communicating in a way that can get something done. Uh, the world isn’t meant for us. So, you know, it is if you can’t manipulate objects and the way that they were conceived to be manipulated but yet somehow find a way to do it: that’s innovation. And that’s tenacity and that’s resiliency, and that’s what we need to claim for ourselves. And that’s what we need to point out to employers and policymakers overall.
Keith: Absolutely, you mentioned your inner ableism, which is a constant struggle. And I know that it’s true for me as well, and a lot of other self-advocates. Do you ever feel tokenized? And how do you deal with that on a daily basis?
Jennifer: Right. So especially early in my advocacy, um, folks would realize, “Oh, we need someone with a disability, right?” They were, they were doing their inclusion again off of a checklist. So, you know, we need a black person, we need a Latino person. We need a woman. We need a member of the LGBTQ community. Oh, we need someone with a disability who do we know with a disability? Let’s call Jennifer. Um, we all get that right. Your here so of course we’re listening to the disability community, um, learning how to work that and turn it back around. Learning how to take situations that folks seem to understand and internalize better and give it a disability spin so that they could see their own ableism and their own tokenism in that has been helpful. But it’s an issue I continue to fight.
Keith: It sounds like it. I wanted to ask a very personal family question. How did your son react to your disability?
Jennifer: Yeah, that was really hard. So my son was 12 years old when I was shot. You know, he knew me as his tall athletic mom. We were very active together. And he was brought to my hospital bed the night I was shot, he was brought to the hospital to comfort me as I died to say goodbye. And that was very traumatic for him. While my son is an adult now and an amazing man, as far as I’m concerned, I believe that this is a trauma that he’ll live with for the rest of his life. Now, uh, once I became a person with a disability, he and I no longer lived together. Um, I was divorced from his father, so my son spent time in both households, previous to my injury. And with my injury, he went to live with his father full time and would visit with me. And early in those visits, it involved, helping to care for me. When I needed to transfer out of my wheelchair for self-care. If he was around, he would help me move my legs. Once I started, driving, as I said, I’m a full-time wheelchair user, I’m a paraplegic. Um, so I was fortunate, to be able to begin to drive a wheelchair-accessible modified van. And in Phoenix, relying on public transportation isn’t as robust as you and I know from back east. So life is a lot harder if you don’t have the ability to get around in a private vehicle. So, you know, my son learned to work the controls in my van, how to work the lift, how to work the ramp. Uh, he would push my wheelchair if we would go out, uh, in the mall, these sorts of things. And while it was difficult for him, he certainly adjusted. Again, children are resilient and the only times that I have ever seen my son become animated to the point of not violence, but near violence, anger to that level where I felt I might need to intervene. Were when in public, able-bodied folks would be rude to me as a person with a disability. Uh, so I have found him to be loving and protective and as time has gone on, I mean, it’s just part of who I am. So he, you know, those are adjustments that he has made just over the course of his life without I think a lot of examining.
Keith: Wow. And so you talk about dealing with the grief of being shot and adjusting to a new way of life. That made you into the person you are. Would you talk more about that?
Jennifer: Well we all have a self-identity, right? When you think about who you are, “I am”. Uh, and there are a lot of things that make up your self-identity. And for me at that point in time, a large part of my self-identity was being a woman who traveled around the world and threw myself off of mountains and waterfalls and all of these sorts of things. I was very proud of my athleticism. It was an important part of who I was. I was training for a world title in martial arts, all of these sorts of things. I loved who I was as a mom. I loved my home, my two-story home that I moved about with ease. I loved the easy nature of my life and I certainly loved my fiance and the life that we had together. And in a single moment of shock and fear and great pain, all of that was just shattered. Um, all of it went away and a single heartbeat while I lay drowning in my own blood begging people to tell my son how much I loved him. And going through that, in many ways alone because my fiance lay in another hospital and in a coma. We were both-I was in an induced coma for a period of time, but due to the nature of his injury, he was unresponsive for a much longer period of time than I was. So there was just so much loss. There was the loss of the great relationship I had with my 12-year-old son, because, I no longer was his custodial parent. There was the loss of my fiance because we were physically separated. Uh, there was the loss of my entire community, because through this act of violence, I was put in a bubble of security and didn’t have access to those individuals. And the nature of such a catastrophic and tragic moment also throws people into a tizzy and they’re not sure how to react and they tend to back away.
It’s living with grief and physical pain and just completely shattered. I didn’t have a true north to hold on to at that moment. Other than I loved my son, I loved my fiance, I was still here and I was going to get better. Now what get better meant, certainly changed over these past 18 years and it’s not even language that I would use anymore. But at that moment, that’s what I was trying to do: claw my way out.
Keith: Thank you for your vulnerability and candor about all of that. The reason why I asked that is I’m recalling how I first became aware of you. An article, an interview in the magazine, New Mobility this was right before you first campaign for the legislature. And I was always taken with that portrayal of you and your candor of your lived experience in when you got elected?
I was personally elated because you were in my state and stage of residence. And that was a really important article for me to read as a self-advocate, even though our lives are different. And that neither good nor bad. That’s just the way it is.
I’m looking at your website and have been for the past week. And on the home page you have in big bold letters, “STRONG, ABLE, LEADERSHIP”. How important are those words to you to get across to be the first thing a person sees on your website? Do you feel that it is critical to dispel the cultural notion from the able-bodied society, that disabled people are weak, that we are mute, we are unemployable, we mooch off the government? How important is that statement for you to come right out and say that?
Jennifer: Well, I felt, I mean, clearly, because it’s the first thing you see when you engage with me as a candidate is this statement, “STRONG, ABLE, LEADERSHIP”. When I started poking around and suggesting that I might consider a run, you know, I always heard people won’t vote for you, you’re in a wheelchair. Uh, and if it wasn’t said that overtly, it was still made clear time and time again. You know, you’re probably too weak to do this. How are you ever going to get to the doors you need to knock on? All of these sorts of things and again, going back to a clear understanding that people with disabilities come with built-in resilience and innovation, it was really important and so I decided-if you look at my campaign logo, there is my wheelchair. There’s a stylized photo of me that was done when I did a fundraiser for a wheelchair for a marathon that I did, and I raised money for spinal cord injury research. So this logo was done for me, and it was taken from a training picture of me, and it’s a very stylized image of a woman with a ponytail and my big gloves racing forward is clear. The wind is in my hair and the wheel of my wheelchair has been turned into a kind of like a hurricane kind of a swirl. Right. That logo, it’s actually my tattoo as well, but that logo also became a very important part of this and so when I finally decided I was going to run, I decided that my disability would be front and center. I wasn’t going to hide from it. I wasn’t going to apologize for it and I wasn’t going to cover it up to make anyone else comfortable. And so that play on words goes back to all of those folks that says, don’t you worry? She might be too fragile. And I own my disability. I am a strong member of the pride movement. I feel pride about this movement about this community. And I’m not going to be ashamed of myself or of us. I’m not going to hide us. And I integrate that into my advocacy, into my campaign, and into my work as a legislator.
Keith: In your opinion, what should everyone know about disability empowerment and what are all there any myths or misconceptions that you would like to dispel?
Jennifer: I mean, we’ve talked about some of them, right? That we’re weak, we’re unemployable. We’re less than, we mooch off of the government, that we are a burden to society or our role is to be inspirational or to suffer for clarity for piety, whatever that might be. Disability is part of a continuum of living disability is a common and I’m going to say this in air quotes “normal” experience. And disability exists in our lives more than folks realize. I have lost a few friends here and there, by calling out their own experience or that of their family member or someone like that as being part of the disability community, “No I’m not disabled, I just have rheumatoid arthritis or I have diabetes, or I’m just having trouble seeing,” whatever it might be, and to work to end that stigma, that disability is something that has to be wrapped up in a pretty bow. That we have to use flowery terms like disability or some of these other terms that are becoming popular are there to protect the typically-able community from their biases when it comes to dress us up in a way, to package us, market us, in a way that we’re more palatable to folks who are challenged by our disabilities, by our differences.
I just refused to be part of that any longer. Maybe earlier in my injury and certainly before my injury that might’ve been part of who I was, but I’m not changing my identity in a way that makes someone who is typically able more comfortable. Now that doesn’t say that doesn’t mean that I don’t recognize that there is awkwardness and education that needs to happen.
That I’ve had people say to me, you know, after we’ve spent some time together and usually on their second glass of wine, when I first met you, I was so afraid. I’m like afraid, afraid of what, what did you think was going to happen? Well, I didn’t know, but I didn’t like, where was I supposed to look and what was I supposed to call you? And are we allowed to shake hands? So I leave myself open to answering questions when they’re appropriate, not in the grocery store line, but once we have developed some sort of relationship, there’s definitely an ask me anything attitude in my life. And so I guess what I want the typically Abel community to know is you’re more likely a person with a disability than you realize. That disability is not a tragedy. Mine came from a tragic moment, but my life is not a tragedy because of it. That I live, laugh, love, and do everything else that I did prior to my injury, except climb stairs.
Keith: Is there any person in your life that has taught you or continued to teach you about the perseverance of the human spirit and not letting obstacles hold you back? Any person or people that you lean on that allow you to not give up?
Jennifer: Yeah. So again, that’s one of those layers of an onion thing. I’m fortunate to have a very rich community around me of friends, family advocates, and acquaintances, that I’m able to draw my own inspiration. And that word I know is a very loaded word in our community, but that I get introspection, and inspiration, and encouragement from some, from their personal experiences.
You know, since my own injury, I’ve watched people live with all kinds of adversity and reflect on their own adversity or resilience in a million different ways. The folks who lost everything in the crash of 2008, those are folks who feel like they faced the worst thing they possibly could ever face and at that moment they did. And yet they’ve overcome friends who have faced diagnoses of cancer or other conditions. Folks who have had loved ones die or deal with addiction, or, lots of other issues. Folks who have dealt with personal adversity on any scale, have all given me inspiration. Watching their grace, watching their patients, watching their own movement through their personal cycle of adversity has always been encouraging to me and educational.
Keith: What do you think that the able-bodied, the temporarily able-bodied society should do sooner rather than later to help the disability community?
Jennifer: Well, I think we need to do more working on universal accessibility. I think that that’s something that everyone should be working on. Everyone at some point in their life is going to face a disability. Either through injury, illness or aging, provided they’re fortunate enough to survive the disabling event and to recognize the commonality of disability and start working towards the types of universal access that make life better for all of us is something everyone can do.
The pandemic has taught us a lot about that. It’s about alternative methods of doing everyday things. There’s a whole segment of the disability community that’s now saying, “we told you we could do that job from home”. But the other thing that I think that we’ve learned is how much of the things we are doing in this pandemic are also exclusive we’ve moved to zoom for all of our meetings. And if you’re a person with an auditory processing disorder, you’re deaf or have an auditory processing disorder or certain types of cognitive disabilities that we’ve made your life more difficult through this. If you are a person who is blind or visually impaired, doing everything on zoom may have made your life more difficult.
I think that we just need to recognize the universality of disability as an experience, but also recognize the diversity within the disability community. That would be helpful and we’re going to continue to break this down in media and public space and everyday practice and that’s helping. And if you look at media, for example, uh, literature, movies, these sorts of things, when you want to signify who the bad guy is, what do you do? You give him a disability? Captain Hook, you give them a scar, you give them some disability when you look at it that lets us know that that’s the bad guy. That’s, that’s the embodiment of evil. Uh, and so we need to continue to call these things out as we are calling out lots of other types of bias at this moment. So we’ve got a lot of work to do, but I know that we’re capable of doing it. We just have to want it.
Keith: Yes. Certainly, you mentioned earlier in the interview crip-pride and I wanted, of course, I know what that is, but I wanted to get your definition of that for the listeners who aren’t as familiar with that term as we are.
Jennifer: So I think Cripp pride is just like the work that other identity groups or affinity groups are doing to be recognized, I refuse to have shame around my disability. I acknowledge it. I celebrate my disability. I joke about my disability in a fun way, I like to think. I point out the places where my disability is not an obstacle. I refuse to shrink down or hide the fact that I am a person with a disability. And I claim my space, for myself, for my community, and I stake out that space as being as in air quotes “normal” as your experience is, whatever that might be.
Keith: Uh, thank you. Uh, yeah, that’s very important to recognize and thats an ongoing journey of why everything ales we do to improve ourselves. Be able to be vulnerable, and more authentic with ourselves and with those around us.
Wrapping up, I always like to get my guest’s opinions on a few things. One as a legislator and as a self-advocate, what are some action steps or action points that you can give the self-advocates who are listening to this podcast and maybe judge beginning their career. And really may be unsure of how to transit from higher academia or academia period into disability advocacy? What are some ways that you find are effective?
Jennifer: I think connecting to other like-minded individuals, and often you can do that through your Center for Independent Living. Every state has Centers for Independent Living. You can Google them to find them or through your political affinity group Democrat, Republican, libertarian, green, whatever that might be to find folks who are like-minded and have similar lived experiences, that’s the first thing to do, and then show up-whatever that means for you.
That may not be a physical act. For many years, I couldn’t physically show up at the Capitol, but I was able to do it through phone calls, letters, online communication. Here in Arizona, the public can reach out on particular bills through our request to speak system. Writing letters to the editor, reaching out and finding ways to engage, and bring my voice, however that manifests itself into the political arena. We have great social media tools that allow folks to do that, to connect, uh, you know, Twitter and Facebook didn’t exist when I first started my advocacy journey. And so finding like-minded individuals was a little more difficult and now you explore a hashtag and there you find hundreds, thousands of folks who share your personal experience and your point of view. Learn about the issues, and learn from more than one source about an issue that’s important to you don’t fall down a partisan sinkhole, FOX TV, as you are learning about a particular issue.
So educate yourself from a 360 viewpoint on a particular issue. Make sure you know, what you think about it but be prepared to be challenged and to grow your own position or point of view, as you gather more information. Those are the things that I think are most important but know that your voice counts and know that you make a difference. Know that it is difficult to be one person, but one person shouting into the darkness can find a second and they can find a third and that’s how you build a movement. And I think everyone can be part of that and the way that they choose to do it.
Keith: Thank you. And so why should the temporarily able-bodied listeners who are listening right now to everything we just talked about and we talked about quite a lot. Very openly and honestly, and I thank you again for that. But why should the temporarily able-bodied listeners care right now about disability rights in your opinion?
Jennifer: Well, I think first off, because it’s right because it’s good because it is right there with love thy neighbor.
I think too, I was once able-bodied. I didn’t need a curb cut or an accessible bathroom or a wheelchair ramp until the moment that I did. And we are all one illness, one accident, one difficult pregnancy, or one more year of living an amazing life away from needing accommodation ourselves.
The more we create equity and inclusion, the stronger we become as a community and as a civilization. So we should do it because it’s right. We should do it selfishly because we ourselves or our loved ones or neighbors may need this. If not now… soon. And we should do it because it allows broader participation which enriches all of us.
Keith: Well, I couldn’t have said it better myself. Jennifer, thank you so much for being a part of this podcast. How can the listeners get in touch with you or keep up-to-date about all the important work you are doing? Not only for the state of Arizona but for the disability community, both local and at large.
Jennifer: Well, I’m very active on social media, so you can find me on Twitter and Facebook. And my website is jenforaz.com. You can reach out to me for legislative matters at email@example.com. I think that I’m easy to find through social media and Google, and I look forward to continuing this journey together. Keith thank you for inviting me to join you today. I’ve really had a very, at least, stimulating conversation with you.
Keith: Thank you and keep safe and thank you again. I really appreciated it. All right, you have a great day.
Jennifer: All right, I’ll look forward to it. Take care!
Keith: You have been listening to Disability Empowerment Now. I would like to thank my guest today and you, the listener. More information about the podcast can be found on disabilityempowermentnow.com. The podcast is available wherever you listen to podcasts or on the official website. This episode of Disability Empowerment Now is copyrighted 2022.