April Reed assumed her new position on December 1st. We talked with her as she unpacked her new office. Following is our edited conversation.
Ability360: As you’re moving into your new office, what’s on your mind?
Reed: I’m thinking a lot about the past and my time with Amina these last 13 years here at Ability360, all the work and all the amazing people we’ve met — her accomplishments. I feel like there’s a lot of amazing things that have been accomplished, but also a lot of amazing things to come. How do we take care of our community? The way we do that is advocacy.
Ability360: What’s your long-term vision for advocacy?
Reed: I think that we have a strong history of advocacy. We’ve done it, we know how to do the events, the legislative trainings, the protests. My vision is to see us grow and expand who we’re welcoming even more. We have people in rural communities eager to participate. We want to pull in parents and youth, we’ve seen that start to happen. I think that was always Amina’s vision as well, that we, that Phoenix, be known for having a good, solid advocacy group. So when people think of Phoenix, they think of these strong, well-informed advocates.
Transportation is an example of the challenges that have happened in the last couple of years. We’ve seen people show up and speak up effectively. I think people are more educated about that issue than I’ve ever seen. That’s exciting.
We as a community have to keep identifying what we care about, what matters to us, what is affecting our daily lives, and then turn that into a show up. It’s not about one or two voices, it’s about a bunch of people giving voice and being willing to be vulnerable and tell their story and put themselves out there. That’s what makes the difference.
Ability360: What are your top priorities this year?
Reed: The climate nationally demands a lot of our attention. I think we all – and I’m saying we, not me, we – Ability360, we – the disability community, need to pay attention to H.R.620. We’re also watching this tax bill and the budget. We’re concerned about Medicare and Medicaid cuts.
The last couple of years have been really interesting as far as local disability-related bills. There could be more service animal issues, there could be more parking issues, who knows? I think vigilance is a good word. We need to be vigilant and pay attention.
Ability360: Do you worry that people are developing issue fatigue?
Reed: I sure do. I get that, life is hard. I think as people with disabilities, we can’t afford to be one of those groups that gets disengaged. I got an email congratulating me on this position from Ayumi Miyachi in Japan. She worked for Justin Dart and visited Ability360 this past summer. At the end it said, “Lead on,” which, of course, is Justin’s famous rallying cry for the disability community. But Ayumi had modified it a bit. She said, “Lead on no matter what.” That really has been also in my mind, there’s been a lot of hard things happening right now, and scary times for our community. I wonder what our leaders like Justin and Amina and others would do facing these times. Very clearly, the message is lead on no matter what for the challenges that are coming. It’s also our message to people who are understandably worried and maybe disillusioned or disenfranchised. No matter what, this community needs you. There’s a place for you, and we all have our piece in this.
Ability360: How important is it for our community to know our disability history?
Reed: Huge. I’ve been thinking about Amina’s history and the disability community history with Justin. If we don’t know what we’ve gone through, we can’t appreciate where we are and where we’re going. If I didn’t understand how hard advocates fought for where we are today, then I take it for granted, and don’t protect it the way I should. I was in Madagascar in 2017. I heard over and over again from people “How blessed you are in the United States. One day we hope to have that. That’s our dream. That’s what we’re fighting for.”
Lead on April! No matter what!