VOICES: Helping others to say, “But I did!”

The Black community is filled with many unique groups of people who a bring strength to the world that cannot be denied.

I belong to several of these groups which form the intersection of what my peers and I refer to as “Triple Jeopardy.” This group consists of being Black, being a woman, and having a disability.

As a Black woman with a disability, I’ve had to fight for many simple rights of passage that others often have not had to.

Because of this Triple Jeopardy factor, things such as obtaining a license and driving were things no one thought I would be able to do. But I did. Thanks to my family and friends, my dreams of driving became reality. People are often so busy looking at a person’s supposed disadvantages, they fail to realize that one’s determination can overturn what seems like impossible odds into incredible possibilities.

Attending community college while living in a body that doesn’t always do what you tell it isn’t the easiest thing to do. But I did. I obtained an associate degree from Sinclair Community College in Disability Intervention Services in 1995. This accomplishment proved that although my intersectionality includes having a disability, I could do anything I put my mind to.

Not only does my disability affect my body, but it affects my speech as well. Some would think things such as giving a TED Talk would be hard for me to do. But I did. I was one of the elite few chosen to give a talk at TEDxDayton eight years ago. It was one of my proudest moments.

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Parts of my Triple Jeopardy factor can cause some who are not aware to view me as incapable or incompetent. After spending a few seconds with me, you’ll not only know that I’m all there, but you’ll start to appreciate my zest for life.

Finding an employer who wouldn’t focus on my disability but would instead focus on my abilities and help me to grow new ones, along with my intersectionality, was a big obstacle to overcome. But I did. I’ve been employed at Goodwill Easter Seals of the Miami Valley for twenty-one years. I currently hold the position of Public Relations Assistant. My duties include sharing information about the programs and services GESMV offers, providing tours, and blogging weekly about issues impacting people with disabilities. I’m proud to say I’m a vital part of the organization and I’m proud to work there.

I advocate for Black women with disabilities like myself in hopes that one day people will see the discrimination in this area that needs to be shared to be fixed. As I always say, awareness is key. With enough education, I’m hopeful the same opportunities that are offered to others, will be offered to us too.

As you continue to celebrate Black History Month and prepare to celebrate Developmental Disability Awareness Month in March, remember to spread awareness about the accomplishments of a community that’s often misjudged, but is always determined and resilient.

There are resources available to learn more about disability inclusion. Read about the Triple Jeopardy Initiative, tune in to a Zoom livestream to see me emcee the Ohio Developmental Awareness and Advocacy Day on March 1, and you can learn more about Ohio’s Department of Developmental Disabilities on their website: dodd.ohio.gov.

There are many ways you can be our ally and support us in our endeavors so more people can continue to say, “But I did!

Shari Cooper is a public relations assistant at Goodwill Easter Seals Miami Valley and an advocate for disability inclusion.

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