I toss and turn, trying to find any position to get away from the pain. The compounding years of living with a 90° angle in my back wears in my body. Potential arthritis, hypothyroidism… the list continues to grow. As a person with a disability, our bodies often age faster. I hear people around me joking about how it “sucks to get old” and although I can’t argue that I don’t miss the pain-free days of my teens I also know that it is just a representation of a privilege that many don’t receive.
As an individual in my 30s who has spent over 18 years active in the disability community, I have watched many of our civil rights leaders pass into eternity. Although I hate to be viewed as “fragile”, there is no denying that people with disabilities or any individual from a minority group, live vulnerable lives. Often, it is not the disability itself that make each person vulnerable but rather the rationing of critical services, lack of healthcare supports, inadequate funding for our activities of daily living, isolation, and discrimination. For me to not openly own my vulnerability would be for me to also not own my identity as a person with a disability.
On May 19, 2020 an inclusion and justice activist passed away on her 33rd birthday. Stacey Park (Milbern) and her life’s work was a true reflection of what inclusion and justice is. She is just one of a long list of amazing activists that we have recently lost. These losses do not infer an end in our movement towards inclusion and justice, but rather a call to action.
As a daughter of a South Korean immigrant, a member of the LGBTQIA community, a woman of color, and a Disabled person (“Disabled” as a sense of identity and embraced culture), she truly knew what it meant to be vulnerable and the lifesaving power of solidarity. Stacey lived at the crux of intersectionality where the beauty of culture is embraced and the negligence of society is palpable. Her space in the world allowed her to transcend typical divisions between race, culture, disability, sexuality and spirituality. She had direct insight into the often-overlooked lives of people facing multiple vulnerabilities. After the horrific fires of the 2019 California forest fire season, electric companies made the decision to cut power to certain regions on a rolling basis to decrease the risk of a fire. Although the safety measure was made with good intentions, it overlooked the power dependent individuals with disabilities. People with disabilities often rely on electricity for temperature regulation, feeding, communication, and even breathing. Stacey spent hours advocating for this population that she represented. She found places for people to stay, had generators donated, and created networks of support.
Since her passing, there has continued to be a growing number of people from disenfranchised communities dying for no reason, with the most recent public murder of George Floyd and the subsequent deaths that have occurred during the riots. These deaths are a symptom of a pandemic that existed long before the coronavirus. Our country has been plagued with discrimination since its inception. But similar to the coronavirus, discrimination is not always believed to exist by those who have not experienced it.
At the intersection of disability, race, and poverty are a myriad of barriers and risk that directly affects individuals lives, freedom, and survival. Getting old is a privilege and we have an obligation to support others in having that privilege as well.
Listen to Stacey share her story on the Disability Visibility Project: https://soundcloud.com/alice-wong-60/dvp-stacey-park-milbern-remembered?fbclid=IwAR3votSkshrVbZYrfshMOvI31RHQBfsLGWffNOa3ltQCAxWYPZMK728-gs0
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