On March 8, academics, caregivers and advocates gathered at Access Living to recognize International Women’s Day and address issues that women within the disability community confront. The celebration drew close to 100 women and men, both with and without disabilities. Fulani Thrasher and Judy Panko Reis, Staff at Access Living, were the lead organizers of the event. According to Thrasher, they were inspired to organize an International Women’s Day event at Access Living since it is not recognized in the United States, although it is a national holiday in 27 other countries. According to Thrasher, Women and men were responsible for a lot of the social advances made in this country, and it is important to remember that. International Women’s Day is a way to recognize those accomplishments and advancements. The organizers took the event a step further by celebrating the accomplishments of women with disabilities and addressing barriers that women with disabilities face. Traditionally, the disability movement is often left out of the feminist struggle. With this in mind, Thrasher acknowledged and was pleased that the event attracted people who might not have known much about the disability movement because it is often left out of the feminist struggle. The event shared information about education, employment, sexual violence and housing. Although these are issues that impact all women, Thrasher pointed out that the “experiences of women with disabilities are unique.”
Pictured here is Octavia Mitchell, a panelist at the Access Living International Women’s Day Event.
Beto Barrera, Access Living’s Manager of Community Organizer, was one of the many people who attended the event. Talking about issues surrounding the event, Barrera said, “A gulf remains between the promise of equality for women, and the reality of women across the globe.”
Throughout the Access Living event, participants addressed that gulf. University of Illinois at Chicago Associate Professor Carol Gill gave the keynote address. Gill discussed the inadequate representation of women with disabilities in society and the role these women with disabilities have played and are still playing in getting disability recognized as a human rights issue. University of Michigan Professor Petra Kuppers and Access Living President Marca Bristo also spoke, touching on things they were proud of as women with disabilities, along with challenges that they face. In addition to these presentations, the event featured a panel of women with disabilities representing a diverse range of cultural perspectives. The panel included Azziza Nassar with a Palestinian perspective; Alifiyiah Battalova with a Siberian perspective; Petra Kuppers with a German perspective; Cathy Saunders with an African American view; and Octavia Mitchell, who spoke from the viewpoint of US war veteran and an African American. The women shared their culturally diverse specific experiences as women with disabilities, their sources of pride, the challenges they faced, along with their suggestions for goals that women with disabilities can organize on. Mentoring, organizing and continuing to communicate were some of the things identified by the participants to help address issues that face women with disabilities.
Thrasher was thrilled with the attendance for the event, and response to the event. She hopes the International Women’s Day Event will become an annual celebration. On top of annual celebrations, she would like to see issues that were addressed at the Women’s Day event integrated consistently into Access Living Programming. The organizing group for young women with disabilities, the Empowered Fe-Fes, is a great vehicle to do that. “I think the Fe Fes should take charge to make sure Access Living is pursuing rights [of women with disabilities] and trying to solve some of the issues within the women with disabilities community.”
In addition to Thrasher and Judy Panko Reis, Access Living’s Marilyn Martin, Tiffany Patterson, and Josie Newson, also helped plan the event. Many thanks to everyone who was involved.