Disability Activism Beats Doing Housework

Patricia Silva, PhD avatar

by Patricia Silva, PhD |

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disability activism

Make Change Happen
I now introduce myself as a disability rights activist. I began to pay attention to local politics and related activities last fall. Our city redevelopment plans are charging along, without any city staffer to pay attention to the needs of the disabled. As such, I’ve been making the most of my limited energy and have been swapping housework for activism. I believe it is important that the needs of people with disabilities be thought of during any city planning motions.

Pick a ‘team’ — planning, parks, library and more

Public hearings now fascinate me. It is amazing how quickly you get to know the various players. (I use my cell phone camera to record to help me learn, review topics and people.)

Speak up, and they quickly will get to know you, too. Maybe civic engagement will provide you with the excitement of rooting for baseball teams. It certainly has for me. Our city council has a suspenseful mix of progressives and conservatives that sometimes manage to agree on something.

I make sure I read the agenda packet, and sign up for all the possible email notices of board meetings and planning committees. Then I attend the meetings to learn about whatever issues need action.

Obvious benefits 

My primary goal is to have the city agree to build a new library rather than expanding the old one with all the limitations of a circa-1995 building.

And I already have made a difference! I attended and spoke at every board meeting starting in January when expansion was deemed the “only way to go” — much to my horror.

After my open meeting public comments, the Library Board agreed to further research the pros and cons of a new building versus expanding (gutting and starting over, really?) the old library. My talking points included research via the web about what the prize-winning library architects had been doing for other public libraries, and discovered my new favorite thing: A drive-through book pick-up!

This feature would not be possible at the current library location in a congested part of the city’s downtown. But it would be GREAT for people with disabilities! Not having to get out of your car just to pick up your books! Moms with kids would love it, too!

I have followed up my public comments by making a blog about the advantages of new libraries, and I plan to cover any cons, too, since I want to be objective. Now I just have to find more time and energy to keep content coming and engaging the board members.

Best use of my limited energy

That’s why the clutter has to wait. Getting a new library is far more important to me than having a messy home. (Though I wish I could do both.)

Attending city council meetings, the library board meetings, and the many other public meetings for the city’s redevelopments plans in this small Midwest city of 110,000, has kept me very busy. No city staffer is disabled. No disabled people work for any of the consultants. All of them seem to have next to no experience with any kind of physical limitations.

But MS is the all-purpose disease. I know what it is like to be in a wheelchair, to be blind (in one eye), and have severe double vision. My weak upper body makes every door a challenge if not equipped with assist.

Sharing my experience may help make change happen for the city’s redevelopment plans.


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Gael Hepworth avatar

Gael Hepworth

Activisim is essential to change. House keeping and dust can wait. It feels stupid to know how much energy I devoted to an immaculate home when the entire world needs a reboot! I wish everyone lived 24 hours in a wheelchair - Simply imagine how beautiful our world would be... to engage with everything, experience no boundaries to participation for everyone, now that would be a just universe, Such a wonderful place. Sad to think abled people need to consider walkers, strollers, wheelchairs and the rest of us as we age.. the time is now!


I've been considering asking my city council members to spend a day in a wheelchair. Or maybe the PLANNING DEPARTMENT! They are the ones who really need a clue!

Michele willisms avatar

Michele willisms

bravo Paula!! I too am in activism and disability is an issue that needs a magnifying glass to some!! Keep in up and will follow progress- not perfection. Scrap the piles I say!!


Thank you! I'm going to operate on a "don't get mad, make change happen" basis! ha ha

carol avatar


Ive done the same in my suburban Philly community and have had very positive response from bo-partisan township managers and supervisors who welcome and encourage my input. I find many aren't aware of the challenges until it is pointed out...anywhere, library, parks, developments, schools, etc. So speak up, it can make a difference. Encourage those with other kinds of disabilities to speak up too...visually, autistic, CP, and seniors, etc. I attend local meetings when I can, email and letters help too as long as they are constructive.


Great to know you are doing this too. I like to think that I am helping others too. If I have a problem, maybe someone else does but doesn't act on it because it is hard to know who to ask to fix it.

Either because my eyesight or my brain :-) I had trouble (mainly at night) at an intersection with a new median. It blended completely in line with the curb across the road when I was in the left turn lane. The first time I was there, I nearly turned down the wrong way because the median from the viewpoint from my somewhat low car didn't allow me to distinguish between the median and the further away true curb.

At least my brain was functioning a bit because as I was slowly making the turn, little warning bells were going off saying "this is wrong - this is wrong" so I looked and looked to try to figure out what was wrong and then my brain went "ding - this is a 4 lane road now with a median -STOP!" so I managed to turn enough to just roll over the median a bit with my back tire.

When it happened again a few weeks later, I tried to analyze what was wrong with me or the intersection and couldn't figure it out.

I was pleased that within days of getting a contact name in the right city department from my council representative, he took the time to speak to me and recognized that it was not a city road but a state road (in the city, a highway and a street essentially). He commented that the city always puts up markers on the end of their medians.

I happened to need to go through that intersection again that night and looked and that was the problem, no marker at all! So I wrote him an email and described the problem.

He forwarded my concern about the unmarked median to the state Department of Transportation and they installed a post marker on the median within days.

Hopefully, that means I will never again make the mistake of turning down the wrong way on the divided road!


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