July was Disability Pride Month, dedicated to celebrating, uplifting, and highlighting the work and successes of the disability community. While the Americans with Disabilities Act passed into law in 1990, we still have a long way to go to reach equity and equality for disabled people. Our Gender Avenger of the Month for July is Kehsi Iman Wilson, the Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of New Disabled South, a recently formed organization devoted to improving the lives of disabled people and passing disability rights policy in the South.
The Gender Avenger Team talked to Kehsi about disability justice, her inspirations, and what inspires her to keep doing the work.
What does disability justice look like to you?
Disability justice looks like a world in which all people and all bodies are valued because we are human. Value is redefined not through the lens of production or sexuality or what can be “done for” someone else but in terms of the color we bring to the collective tapestry of humanity.
In a very practical way, it looks like an end to sheltered workshops, it looks like universal healthcare, it looks like collective care, widespread mutual aid, and it looks like an end to the prison industrial complex as we know it. It looks like an end to narratives that disabled people are cursed, broken, not as smart, not fully human and need to be fixed. Disability justice –like all forms of justice–hold multiple truths at one time — that health, healing, wellness and wellbeing are universal needs and desires and yet that looks different for different people. I could go on but I’ll boil it down to widespread agreement on the inherent value of our humanity.
Who is a woman you look up to?
There are several. The first one that came to mind though is Lena Waithe. Bet you weren’t expecting that answer! But she’s raw, she’s real. Her self-awareness is so palpable through her work. To me, she is an expert in narrative change work. I feel she’s revolutionary. She’s powerful. She is an unapologetic representative for her community, for her identities, for Black people. She is a truth teller. These are all things that I look up to.
What do you wish you could tell your younger self?
Don’t take everything so seriously. I never went on trips or vacations, I didn’t indulge…everything was about performance and achievement. As a highly sensitive person (HSP) I always felt everything that I already knew to be true about the world and its injustices, so I never felt like I could rest or I was wasting time. I used so much negative reinforcement on myself because I was so afraid of not making an impact, not working hard enough, and not leaving a mark. This was both cause and symptom of mental illness, generational traumas, and my socialization as well as my sincere commitment to using what I’ve got to make a difference for my people. At my current age, after all the things I’ve been through and especially now that I’m a mother, I’ve been committing to self-care, healing, wellness, and actually enjoying life for the first time.
As we head into disability pride month, what are some of the issues we should be focusing on to support this community?
I could go down the list of all of the things the community needs, but if people take nothing else away I hope that people understand that the “Disability community” is your community. It’s every community. Disabled people exist as a part of every community on earth. Anyone can become disabled at any time, and if you live long enough you will become disabled. More and more people have disabilities and chronic illnesses because of modern life.
So awareness is key. Just start on your own journey of awareness and knowledge about what disability is. Examine your own beliefs about what it means to be disabled, how you view disabled people, and how you perpetuate ableism. Read the Disability Justice principles by Sins Invalid. We need to be intentional about making sure that we are not leaving disability out of any issue. Disabled people need to be lifted up as part of every conversation on every social justice issue because we’re not free until we’re all free.