Imagine you are walking through the mall, window shopping. The mall is crowded but not overly packed. It's a holiday weekend and several stores have great sales. While browsing, someone taps you on the shoulder. They ask if you need help. It's a young man with a strange look in his eyes. You immediately realize you saw this same man walking in the last three stores. Your anxiety increases. Is he following you? He asks if you need help. He sees that you are in a wheelchair. You tell him no. "I'm fine." But he insists. "Let me help you," he says. He grabs your wheelchair and starts to pull you away from the crowd. People are passing by enjoying the excitement of the mall. No one notices your fear. What do you do?
This happened to me. Thankfully, I was with my husband who was only a few feet away. The man thought I was alone and helpless. My husband yelled at him to leave me alone. He walked away. And this happened in a crowded mall in broad daylight.
After this scary incident, I immediately understood why many people with physical disabilities are fearful of leaving their homes and want the security of the familiar. For many women with severe physical disabilities, we fight a daily struggle of wanting to be independent, but fearful of our physical limitations in the face of potential assailants in the community.
These concerns are not unfounded. According to the Department of Justice (2015), the rate of violent victimization for people living with disabilities is more than twice the rate of persons without disabilities. This data deeply frightens and saddens me, not just for myself and my future, but for the millions of women in the United States who are currently living with a physical disability.
This is why when I launched my nonprofit organization, Disability Partnerships, the first program I set up was the Wheels of Defense program. Wheels of Defense is a self-defense program primarily for women who use wheelchairs as a mobility aid. It is designed to be one of many solutions to the feeling of vulnerability that women who use a mobility aid may feel. I have expanded the program to anyone with a physical disability who wants to feel empowered.
The overarching goal is to help combat the attitudes and beliefs that women with physical disabilities are less capable of defending themselves. We partnered with Defend Yourself, a certified self-defense training institute to provide these classes. The class teaches the basics of self-defense theory, strategies, and techniques. I have participated in the training and I left the class feeling more empowered and aware of the tools I have to defend and protect myself against an attack. It's not about what I can't do, it shows me how to use everything I have to fight back against unwanted attention. I now have a greater understanding boundary-setting, de-escalating conflict and how to effectively communicate my concerns.
I am immensely proud of this program. I recently won the F. Michael Taff Humanitarian award for this program. I know that it will continue to grow and expand.
I am so excited about the opportunity to demo this program at the 25th anniversary of the NBC4/Telemundo Health & Fitness Expo. Wheels of Defense demos will be provided on March 10, 2018 from 12:30 p.m. -2:30 p.m. at the Washington Convention Center, Booth 6092. This program is for anyone interested in participating in the class. If you live in the DC metro area, please stop by and participate in the demo or support the program. We would love to see you there!
Today, I serve as social media marketing intern for Disability Partnerships, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for persons with physical disabilities. My time with the organization has allowed me to broaden my awareness and learn more about those living with a physical disability, their caregivers, and their advocates who struggle and accomplish so many amazing feats every day. I have also learned how the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 changed the lives of millions of Americans. As a result of advocates who worked tirelessly for those with disabilities who were not treated equally, this policy has afforded every American, regardless of race, gender, abled or disabled, to have access to basic human dignity.
Now, when I think about equality, I understand that it is up to all of us, able bodied or disabled, to work toward true equality and inclusion. I am invigorated by the work that I have done and continue to do for Disability Partnerships. I truly believe that I am doing my part in building awareness and access for those who are most vulnerable in our community.
by Hunter Huang, Social Media Marketing and Communications Intern
As a young kid, when I thought about equality, my thoughts would focus on race and gender. Since I grew up in a rural area and looked different than all my other classmates, race and gender were my only measures of equality. When I left home to attend Rochester Institute of Technology, I discovered a vast community working together to achieve mutual goals. As a result of attending classes with students enrolled at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, I’ve been exposed to new concepts, new friends and a new language – American Sign Language. What was most inspiring to me was that I learned to expand my mind and understand that equality included not just race and gender but also disability.
Working together to improve the quality of life for persons with physical disabilities!