Social Movements: An Introduction

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2020 has been a rough year. There is a global pandemic, communities are hurting, people are dying, and everything in the news is bleak. While what is happening today may seem hopeless, nationwide protests aren’t necessarily bad; they can invoke massive social change. During times of civil unrest, like we are experiencing now, we can look to other social movements, not only for comfort–to know what tactics have created change in the past but also for a framework for how to act and how to have cross-movement solidarity.

In this blog series, we will examine the intersectionality of four major movements: Civil Rights in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Second-Wave Feminism, LGBTQIA+ Pride, and Disability Rights. None of these movements would have been successful without the support of other movements and multiply marginalized (having more than one minority identity) people.

Before we can dive into the history of social movements to understand how cross-movement solidarity and being aware of intersectionality is crucial to any movement’s success, we need to understand what intersectionality is. As a concept, intersectionality is not new; in fact, Maria W. Stewart alluded to the idea of intersectionality in the 1830s. The term itself was coined by Kimberle Crenshaw in 1989. It is defined as “the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender, as they apply to a given individual or group regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage”. This definition is complicated and very academic. Another way to conceptualize intersectionality is to list out how you identify yourself and think about what identities might cause you to be discriminated against or oppressed. A white, middle-class, nondisabled man in his 40s is likely going to experience less discrimination than a 70-year-old Black woman who has a visible disability and is living in poverty. Folks who have intersecting identities are more likely to experience discrimination than those without. For example, a Black woman may experience discrimination in employment in companies where a Black man or a white woman world not.

Our identities make up how we interact with the world and how the world interacts with us. Massive social movements have been necessary to ensure equality for oppressed people for a long time (early settlers came to America to escape religious oppression). What our country is experiencing now is not new, and has a proven record of change, although slow and incremental. Take a moment to reflect on the Disability Rights Movement (which we will examine in a future post): the Rehabilitation Act was passed in 1973, section 504 was not enforced until 1977, and it took a 24-day sit-in to get that done; then ADA was not signed until 1990 after a number of other protests and a crawl up the capitol steps. Reform does not happen fast. Through examining past social movements, including our own, we can learn to be better allies and further rights of all people.

2021-2023 State Plan for Independent Living (SPIL)

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Authorized under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2015, the State Plan for Independent Living (SPIL) is a three-year plan developed by the Missouri Statewide Independent Living Council (MOSILC). The plan issues guidance for the state to achieve the mission of ensuring individuals with a disability in Missouri can live independently and participate in the community as they choose. Centers for Independent Living (CILs) are primarily responsible for implementing the mission of the SPIL; however, other agencies that serve people with disabilities are expected to implement the plan as well.

There are four specific goals, each with measurable action steps outlined to fulfill the mission of independent living for people with disabilities in Missouri.

The first goal is community integration across housing, employment, and transportation. To achieve the housing portion of this goal, CILs will use educational materials to influence housing authorities to encourage universal design. CILs and other stakeholders, such as people with disabilities, will advocate for and take an active role in developing policies ensuring access to affordable and accessible housing. The second part of this goal calls for CILs and other agencies dedicated to independent living to increase competitive integrated employment. To do this, CIL staff will sit on local boards and commissions, learn about work incentives through webinars/online classes, educate employers and consumers about work incentives, and facilitate Vocational Rehabilitation programs such as Summer Work Experience and Pre-ETS. To meet the goal of community integration through transportation, CILs will increase awareness of existing systems and make sure information is accessible, influence transit planning by serving on boards and commissions, and work to increase the number of consumers who use transit services.

The second goal is to stimulate civic engagement through self-advocacy, voter registration, and encouraging advocates to serve on boards and commissions. CILs will educate people with disabilities on the importance of civic engagement and self-advocacy and prepare advocates to sit on boards, committees, and commissions. In addition, CILs will educate policymakers about the importance of disability policy issues by hosting voter forums and advocacy days. Finally, CILs will assist election commissions with ADA compliance.

The third goal is to ensure emergency preparedness by making sure consumers have access to resources during emergencies and that people with disabilities are included in disaster planning and emergency management. People with disabilities are at high risk of being negatively affected by disasters and must be included in emergency preparedness. CILs are to make an emergency plan and share accessible information about disasters with their consumers. CIL staff needs to encourage participants to have their own emergency plans. CILs and other organizations need to collaborate to ensure emergency plans are inclusive of people with disabilities.

The fourth goal is to grow the Statewide Independent Living Council’s (SILC) capacity to support more people with disabilities in Missouri. To increase the SILC’s capacity, resources will need to be obtained and developed so that dedicated staff can implement the action plan outlined in the SPIL.

The SILC committee will meet bi-monthly to evaluate the success of the SPIL. Success will be measured in the implementation of time-specific action steps, satisfaction surveys, and program reports from CILs. The committee will create an annual independent living progress report.

While there are 22 Centers for Independent Living in Missouri and no unserved people in our state, the SPIL recognizes the need to continue outreach to underserved populations. These populations include youth, individuals who are Deaf/hard of hearing, veterans, folks with mental health diagnoses, people with intellectual disabilities, individuals who are blind/low vision, and other multiply marginalized people. CILs will make an effort to better serve people in these groups and will outreach to other organizations to make sure that traditionally underserved individuals are able to receive the services they need to be successful in the community.

The full SPIL is available for review here. If you have comments regarding the 2021-2023 SPIL, please submit them to AdonisTBrown@mosilc.org by June 15th.

Sharing a Few Good Vibrations

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Paraquad is joining forces with other community leaders to make a regional impact on the health and safety of vulnerable populations through the COVID-19 Regional Response Team. Paraquad is ensuring the social and economic needs of people with disabilities are addressed.

“While our ability to provide direct services is impacted, our commitment to ensuring people with disabilities remain living in the community has never been stronger,” said Aimee Wehmeier, Paraquad’s President.

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Paraquad team member Kat taking groceries to participants.

Most of Paraquad’s board and staff have a disability so problem-solving and resourcefulness are second nature. It’s no surprise how quickly employees shifted to meet the emergent needs of the community. Staff are making well-check calls, purchasing and delivering groceries and supplies, making masks, providing information and resources and even providing emergency care.

Paraquad is using funding from the St. Louis Community Foundation and the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation to meet the immediate needs of the community.

“At a time when we could be consumed with our own health and safety concerns, we are surrounded by people who want to help,” stated Dr. Kerri Morgan, Paraquad Board Chair.

To ease the loneliness of social distancing, Paraquad launched a Facebook group, the St. Louis-area COVID-19 Isolation Chamber to share stories, build connections, and provide relevant COVID-19 updates.

In addition, the Paraquad Health and Wellness Center is creating a series of short, adapted exercise videos to help members stay active at home. Check out the videos on the Paraquad Health and Wellness Center Facebook group.

Thank you for supporting Paraquad as we continue doing what we do best: empowering people with disabilities to remain living independently—especially through this COVID-19 crisis.

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