On April 13, I traveled with the Empowered Fe Fes to the State of Washington to speak at Eastern Washington University for a Disability Awareness Week conference. I am the Women & Girls Organizer for the Empowered Fe Fes, which is a group of young women with various disabilities who have worked for over 15 years together to explore the issues and struggles unique to young women with disabilities while spreading awareness about disability rights. Funded by the University’s Diversity Fund, we were able to fly to Washington and the young women’s impact was truly profound. The topic of their speech was an exploration of the issues surrounding disability culture. They invited their audience to question whether or not disability represented a culture. Two of our members, Veronica Martinez and Jackie Thomas, suggested that a necessary component for something to be considered a culture is if a majority of that group defines themselves by that characteristic. They prompted the audience to ask themselves the question, “what are you?”
Veronica (left front) and Jackie (second from left-standing) with others at the conference
We wanted to stress that people answer this question with elements that they feel set them apart and make them unique. In attempting to answer this simple yet complex question, people respond with a particular aspect with which they define themselves. Many people respond with their race, ethnicity, religion, or even their profession. These answers tie those people with others who answered similarly and with whom they share a common history or life experience. For our girls, most, if not all include their disability in their answer to the question, “what are you,” and from this, we argue that disability is a culture that ties them together. Through our speech we sought to teach our audience that disability culture is no less significant than one’s race or ethnicity, because similar to those classifications, it is our disabilities that make us unique and what tie us together as young women.
We argue that disability is a rich culture with history and stories from every country in the world. Moreover, it is one of the few cultures that transcends race, religion, gender, sexuality, country of origin, profession, and any other means by which people define themselves. The Fe Fes used this trip to spread knowledge about the disability movement and our crusade for equal rights. They were also able to promote their four films and to participate in a panel discussion with people with Multiple Sclerosis. At the end of their trip, the Fe Fes were invited by Professor Dan Teachman to speak at Eastern Washington University next year for Disability Awareness Week; an offer that they enthusiastically accepted.
The Fe Fes have bi-monthly meetings at Access Living from 4-6:30 pm (you can check the Access Living website for more details). These girl- led meetings are open to girls with all kinds of disabilities (physical, psychiatric, learning, and developmental) ages 16-24. The Empowered Fe Fes are always recruiting new girls to be a part of their liberating young women support group. Please feel free to contact me directly at 312-640-2190 (voice) 312-640-2102 (TTY).
Kimberly Wilson, Girls Organizing Coordinator