At Tilting the Lens, one of our fundamental principles is that, ‘we don’t know what we don’t know’. To continuously expand our knowledge, and to illuminate the gaps in our collective awareness, we are sharing space with key leaders in the disability community, across industries and borders. For our fifth installment of these conversations,we spoke with Dom Kelly, the Founder, President and CEO of New Disabled South; An organisation that works to improve the lives of Disabled people and cultivate strong disability rights and disability justice frameworks in the Southern states of America.
Until November 2022, Dom served as both the Georgia Fundraising Director and the Senior Advisor for Disability for Stacey Abrams’ campaign for Governor of Georgia.
We hope this dialogue and the takeaways below will help expand definitions and practice surrounding accessibility, disability and equity.
1. Do’s and Don’ts for Advocates and Allies
Dom shared that “If you are a non-Disabled ally, don’t police Disabled people’s language. Some people prefer to use identity-first language. Some people prefer to use person-first language. Listen to Disabled people when they tell you something is inaccessible, and center Disabled people, and particularly multiply marginalized Disabled people, and their experiences.” Vulnerability is essential in allyship – Dom highlighted that “it’s so important to be humble and willing to learn, and to do better.”
2. Listen, Learn and Lead
As founders and CEOs of growing organizations, Dom and Sinéad shared the view that even as leaders, they are always learning, which they see as a strength rather than a weakness. “I really appreciate call outs. I appreciate call ins. I appreciate as a leader when somebody says, “Hey, you kinda messed this up, or, this language wasn’t right.” I then can take a step back and reflect, learn and acknowledge and do better rather than react and be defensive.”
3. The Future of Disability in America
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in 1990, 32 years ago. This monumental landmark saw a lot of change, but more change is still needed for the future of Disability in America – which is where New Disabled South, and there eventual expansion might take shape“I see us not only doing regional Disability work in the South, but I see us having it across this country in all regions. My vision is a New Disabled America, where we have a New Disabled South, a New Disabled Southwest, a New Disabled West; organizations, coalitions. I see us doing this work, nationally and being able to have that regional focus throughout the country. Being able to see that people in the South have access to home and community based services, that Disabled people can get married. We don’t continue to see Black and Brown Disabled people brutalized by police and incarcerated at alarming rates in the South or across the country. I want to be able to see change in the next couple of years, and measure those changes.”
4. Dom’s Recommendations
At Tilting the Lens, we believe that accessibility is a continuously evolving practice. Dom and Sinéad agree that learning from, and listening to the lived experiences of other Disabled people is at the heart and center of the work. Spotlighting the work of other advocates, organizations and innovators was an important part of this conversation, we hope anyone who engages with the video, this article or the transcript is encouraged to be curious, to question and start conversations to address inaccessibility.
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Below is the list of the Disabled advocates and educators mentioned by Dom during the conversation:
Rasheera is a Disability justice advocate, author, scholar, public speaker and founder of the Dopson Foundation and Beauty with a Twist brand — which was established in early 2020 to increase representation, social justice, and professional and health equity for women and girls with disabilities. Their podcast Womanhood and Disability is dedicated to uplifting, amplifying, and sharing stories of women and girls with disabilities.
Sonya is a multidisciplinary artist and activist who uses dance and other artforms to expand empathy. Her approach to art and activism is informed by the principals of Disability Justice and her lived experience as a queer and Disabled woman.
Alice Wong (she/her) is a Disabled activist and founder of the Disability Visibility Project, an online community dedicated to creating, sharing, and amplifying Disability media and culture.
Neighborhood Access is a consultancy founded by Jules Good (they/them) that works with community-facing organizations to help you make their processes, and practices accessible to the Disabled community.
Mary Fashik (she/her) is a queer Disability rights activist, author, public speaker, and workshop facilitator, who hosts the podcast The Politics of Disability, a podcast that addresses the politics, and unpalatability of Disability.