People with disabilities have always had a voice. We’re just teaching the world different ways to listen.
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Thanks for Paving the Way: Black History Month 2020

February 25, 2020

By Guest Writer Shari Cooper

As I celebrate Black History Month, I must say, I’m proud of my culture and how far we’ve come.

My mother, who was born in 1932, often shares stories of a time in history when there were bathrooms, seating, drinking fountains and other things dedicated to and for black people to use because prejudice reared its evil head. It’s hard to believe that this hatred was all over a person’s skin color, and sad to say, in some cases, that hatred remains today.

Black people have prevailed through many trying times, only to make great strides. There are many heroes I have looked up to, one being my mother. She advocated for me when I was young and taught me how to advocate for myself so that now, I can stand on my two feet. Being a black woman with a disability, I love learning about those who are like me and are making waves I can ride so I may have quality of life. One of those persons happens to be Haben Girma.

Haben Girma, a lawyer who was born deafblind, advocates for inclusion in both education and Hollywood. Although, I’m excited when a person chooses a career in helping advocate for people with disabilities, I’m overjoyed when that person has a disability. When you’ve walked in similar shoes as a person, I think it makes your mission to change things for the better a little more urgent.

Haben was the first person who’s deaf and blind to graduate from Harvard Law School. She saw a need in the disability community to have a lawyer who understood the unfairness the world can often pose. Although things were difficult for her as she traveled her educational journey being the first with her set of disabilities, she persevered and is now a disability rights lawyer. Haben was one of the first to make elected officials aware of how important technology is in the lives of people with disabilities, both socially and professionally. She also went on to give a TED Talk, was named the White House Champion of Change by President Obama and is a sought-after motivational speaker.

Women such as Haben make me want to continue my own mission to speak up, making sure all people with disabilities are treated fairly. We are often a forgotten people who are downplayed because of society’s stigma. Only when we reach the point of self-advocacy will people have to listen, and changes will be made.

I’m happy February is Black History Month, although I celebrate my culture 365 days a year. It takes all cultures to bring about a beautiful array of differences to the world, and I’m glad to be a part of a great one. I am hopeful we shall continue to overcome as the world turns, and many new champions in the disability rights and civil rights movement will rise.

Shari Cooper is a strong advocate for everyone who lives with a disability. In her position as Public Relations Assistant for Goodwill Easter Seals Miami Valley, Shari is the “blogger-in-chief.” She’s also a columnist for the Dayton Daily News Editorial pages and an award-winning speaker. This year, she served as the official emcee for DD Statehouse Advocacy Day, introducing advocates as well as the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, the Director of the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities and other speakers. She even gave a TED talk at TEDx Dayton in 2014 called “Are you OK with yourself?” But the role she cherishes most is that of disability awareness advocate.

Shari’s impact as an advocate is far-reaching. She has served on the Governor’s Council on People with Disabilities and on the Ohio Secretary of State’s Americans with Disabilities Council. In 2008, she was elected to the Board of Directors for the National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities. She’s served on the Ohio Developmental Disabilities Council, and currently serves on the Board of Directors of The Disability Foundation.