Cortland Free Library held their Community Read Book Discussion this weekend on July 22nd. To engage the community in dialogue the library graciously gave out copies of Alice Wong’s Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the 21st Century for the community to receive a free copy. CACTC was asked to participate in the conversation, and were eager to exchange insights, personal struggles, and new perspectives.
CACTC participated in this conversation as we wanted to hear directly from disabled members of our community. Recently, CACTC in partnership with Access to Independence was able to obtain a grant that focuses on the substance use in those with disabilities, and we felt this was a great way to preemptively learn firsthand about the concerns and challenges directly from the disabled voices of Cortland.
The book compiles personal essays and narratives that explore the diverse experiences, struggles, community, and joy that disability offers. These authentic stories allowed us readers to gain profound insights into the lived realities of disabilities similar and different from our own.
“Today we are going to save space and take space”, is how Library Director Jen Graney gently set the tone for the day. Participants took the space to introduce themselves; some as part of an organization, others as a member of the community, even one as a county legislator. However, many had a personal reason to be there, as they came to take space as people with a disability. Participants passed stories around of everyday challenges, acceptance in workplaces, frustrations in lack of data, how they view their community, and how they feel the community sees them.
The content of the book was not a surprise, as having difficulties themselves, these were challenges faced every day. With challenges to daily life, comes the need of support, but the focus was on how those with disabilities often support each other. What one friend may not be good at, another can do, and the joy of finding community and solidarity through shared experience. Support also comes from workplaces with work from home policies, flexible schedules, and a healthy workplace culture, as well as inclusive community services.
CACTC wants to be a part of the support network for people with disabilities in Cortland County, doing what we do best - data collection. Our organization has noticed that data is missing on those with disabilities in Cortland County.So, this year, CACTC is adding a question on the Youth Development Survey, that specifically asks students what type of difficulty they have if any. We will be able to use this data to create a picture of use in youth with disabilities, that our partners will be able to use to adjust programs and services.
The talk wound down with being able to create more accessible spaces in Cortland for people with disabilities. Many felt that spaces in Cortland itself weren't always accessible, meaning ramps were too high to use, or buildings had a large step to get into. Access to Independence is available to do audits on spaces that are already built, being built, or may be used for a venue. Want to know how accessible your next event is? Contact Access to Independence today at email@example.com to learn more about their accessibility audits.
What did CACTC hear from our community? That disability is an integral part to understanding diversity. The diversity comes from the spectrum of conditions, some visible and others invisible, that shape individuals' lives in distinctly important ways. There exists rich diversity within disability, as anyone at any time can become disabled. Embracing disability visibility allows us to challenge stereotypes, promote understanding, and create an inclusive community for all of us to live. A community that will welcome those who are currently disabled, and offers acceptance for anyone who may become.
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