personal stories

NCDJ Board Member Becky Curran Kekula Discusses Facing the Fear of Inclusivity

NCDJ board member Becky Curran Kekula speaks with a TMJ-4 reporter on “The Morning Blend” about inclusive ways to discuss disability.

By “The Morning Blend” show on TMJ-4 Milwaukee

NCDJ board member Becky Curran Kekula appeared on this morning talk show to discuss tips for treating people with disabilities fairly and respectfully. Part of the discussion focused on the fact that since 70% of disabilities are invisible, many people are nervous to either admit they have a disability, or to speak about someone who may have a disability that isn’t immediately apparent.

Also featured are some of Becky’s favorite tips for working remotely — a particularly relevant topic in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

Watch the full segment here: https://www.tmj4.com/shows/the-morning-blend/facing-the-fear-of-inclusivity

These women are making Charlotteans with disabilities a priority

Monique Stamps and Judith Brown are using their personal experiences to advocate for Charlotteans with disabilities.

Judith Brown is executive director of Project 70Forward, a nonprofit working to create an inclusive community for Charlotteans with disabilities. Photo courtesy of Judith Brown
By Bryant Carter, Q City Metro

Among Charlotte’s diverse population, those who are disabled rarely get the attention they deserve. Monique Stamps and Judith Brown want to use their personal experiences to help change that, especially for people of color with disabilities.

At 16, Stamps was involved in a car crash in Rock Hill resulting in injuries that left her reliant on a wheelchair. Following the accident, she found it difficult growing up with a disability. Doctors warned her against having children, friends and family suggested she collect disability insurance instead of going to college, and the agency that was supposed to be a resource wasn’t very helpful.

Under section 14(c) of the U.S. Fair Labor Standards Act, companies can pay disabled workers below the federal minimum wage. When the local Vocational Rehabilitation office placed Stamps in a job sorting plastic spoons, she fought back.

“They told me I was being arrogant versus trying to get an education and live a full life,” she said. “If that made me arrogant, then so be it.”

In 2000, Stamps earned her bachelor’s degree in social work from Winthrop University. Four years later, she relocated to Charlotte to work at an independent-living facility mentoring others with disabilities. That was her first meeting with Judith Brown, who had come to the center for assistance.

Motivation to change the system

Brown lived in New York City and Baltimore before moving to Charlotte in 2010. She suffered hearing, vision and spinal cord injuries in her late 30s that prevented her from working. Brown also discovered that her two sons were autistic. Doctors misdiagnosed her family, she said, because their symptoms weren’t common in African Americans.

The two women immediately bonded as Black women with disabilities who experienced unfair treatment by social services.

Read the full article here: https://qcitymetro.com/2019/12/20/these-women-are-making-charlotteans-with-disabilities-a-priority/

My Fight With a Sidewalk Robot

A life-threatening encounter with AI technology convinced me that the needs of people with disabilities need to be engineered into our autonomous future.

A mid-sized robot on a sidewalk
A Starship Technologies commercial delivery robot navigates a sidewalk. Wolfgang Rattay/Reuters
PERSPECTIVE

By EMILY ACKERMAN

One afternoon last month, as I was crossing a busy four-lane street that runs through the University of Pittsburgh campus, I looked up to see a robot blocking my path.

This wasn’t unexpected. Over the summer, several four-wheeled, knee-high robots had been roaming campus, unmarked and usually with a human handler several feet behind. Recently they’d multiplied, and now they were flying solo. They belonged to Starship Technologies, I learned, an autonomous delivery service rolling out on college campuses across America.

As a chemical engineering Ph.D. student at the University of Pittsburgh who uses a power wheelchair, I figured it wouldn’t be long before I met one of these bots in a frustrating face-off on a narrow sidewalk. What I didn’t realize was how dangerous, and dehumanizing, that scenario might be.

The robot was sitting motionless on the curb cut on the other side of Forbes Avenue. It wasn’t crossing with the rest of the pedestrians, and when I reached the curb, it didn’t move as the walk signal was ending. I found myself sitting in the street as the traffic light turned green, blocked by a non-sentient being incapable of understanding the consequences of its actions.

I managed to squeeze myself up on the sidewalk in a panic, climbing the curb outside the curb cut in fear of staying in the street any longer—a move that causes a painful jolt and could leave me stuck halfway up if I’m not careful.

Then I did what a lot of upset people do: I sent off a thread of angry tweets about the experience.

Read the full article here: https://www.citylab.com/perspective/2019/11/autonomous-technology-ai-robot-delivery-disability-rights/602209/

PublicSource Essay on Lou Gehrig’s Disease and Laughter

In a first-person essay for PublicSource, Sarah Wood writes about a moment of levity she shared with her husband Charlie, who died from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in October 1997. Read Sarah Wood’s story here.

ALS and Laughter PublicSource
Sarah Wood holds a framed photo of her and her late husband, Charlie, at her home located in Export, Pa. The couple bought the house in 1988 and raised their daughter there. (Photo by Kat Procyk/PublicSource)