Written By Sandy Ho
Dear Senator Duckworth,
2012 was momentous for both of us.
In 2012 you became the first disabled Asian American woman elected to Congress. In 2012 I became the program coordinator for Thrive, a mentoring program for disabled young women in Massachusetts. That year would be life changing.
Unlike other youth programs, Thrive paired young disabled women with older disabled women as their mentors. We worked to foster a close-knit community of disabled women leaders.
As a young disabled Asian American woman, I found this new position to be daunting. Feeling uncertain I turned to other disabled women for guidance. Together we created an initiative called “Letters to Thrive.” Our program was a space for women with disabilities to write letters of advice to their younger selves. As I watched you take your seat as a representative of Illinois’ 8th district, letters from young women with disabilities started flooding in. Your Congressional victory was the first time I saw a possibility for disabled Asian American women to exist as our entire selves.
Our constitution was never meant to be upheld by people of color. It was not written for Indigenous people, Black people, and definitely not a disabled Asian American woman. Our founding fathers never imagined us as active members of the public. Your steadfast commitment to improving the lives of Asian Americans was a model I could look to as a community organizer.
I first became familiar with Disability Justice while working as an organizer. Disability Justice is a movement that formally formed in 2005 by disabled queer and activists of color. It is a response to systems of white supremacy, ableism, and the many myths about who deserves rights and representation in this country. Whether attending a protest or breastfeeding on the Senate floor, you have shown me what it looks like to fight for a future that includes Disability Justice.
Recently, you upheld the Americans with Disabilities Act. Amtrak attempted to place exorbitant travel costs on a group of disabled advocates. It was you who reminded the public that affordable accommodations for disabled people is a right, not a burden. These types of victories inspire me to stop apologizing, to take up space, and be proud of my work. What I do is possible because of you. You prove that disabled Asian Americans are anything but quiet and conciliatory. You’re the kind of leader that I know our movement to be about: one that unapologetically continues to raise the bar of justice, while lovingly uplifting those who are multiply-marginalized with principled and firm grace.
I bring these lessons with me to every organizing space. I work to center disabled people of color, as presenters, experts, and artists of their own life and work. The Disability & Intersectionality Summit (DIS) is a gathering organized by disabled activists. DIS reimagines leaders and leadership. It flips the flow of power to marginalized disabled people to recognize that we are more than someone else’s political agenda. We are not someone else’s diversity initiative or a checkmark of inclusion. Rather, we gather to celebrate the Disability Justice movement. Together we remember that we have always been co-conspirators in the movement for our collective humanity.
So, Senator Duckworth, if I could talk to my younger self in 2012, what would I tell her? I would tell her to show up where she is least expected. I would tell her to be uncompromising about who she is. I would tell her to do so, is to love herself. I would tell her that there is a movement out there that she is already a part of.
With love and solidarity,
Sandy Ho is a research associate with the Lurie Institute for Disability Policy, as well as a community organizer in the Boston area focused on disability justice and intersectionality. She is the founder of the Disability & Intersectionality Summit. Sandy identifies as a queer disabled Asian American woman.