Interconnectedness and Women's Leadership: Disability Rights through the Lenses of Emancipatory Spirituality and Liberatory Theology

By Zitzer-Comfort, Carol | Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table, Winter 2007 | Go to article overview

Interconnectedness and Women's Leadership: Disability Rights through the Lenses of Emancipatory Spirituality and Liberatory Theology


Zitzer-Comfort, Carol, Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table


Abstract

While "women's leadership" may seem, at first glance, to be incongruous to the subject of disability rights through the lenses of emancipatory spirituality, chaos theory and wisdom traditions, just the opposite is true. Chaos theory, with an emphasis on the interconnectedness of all people and living beings, sheds new light on emancipatory ideologies for all individuals, particularly women who have disabilities. Native sciences and other wisdom traditions also present themes of "interdependence and respect [for all living beings]"... (Cajete 2000, 13). Women with disabilities have long been denied "equality of respect." From segregation in schools to discriminatory policies from employers, the women with disabilities among us have systematically faced exclusion from most of our institutions. Drawing on the works of Nancy Eiesland, Michael Lerner, Nancy Mairs and Greg Cajete, as well as my own experiences raising a daughter with a disability, I explore notions of disability rights and models of leadership that embrace the inclusion of individuals with disabilities into all facets of our society.

   The Nation's proper goals regarding individuals with disabilities
   are to assure equality of opportunity, full participation,
   independent living, and economic self-sufficiency.

   Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990

Women with disabilities face double discrimination--discrimination based on gender and discrimination based disability. Women of color who are disabled face yet a third type of discrimination ... The limited available statistics suggest that economically, socially, and psychologically, women with disabilities fare considerably worse than either women who are nondisabled or men who are disabled.

(Women and Disability Awareness Project 1989)

Introduction

I would like to begin with an essay my daughter, Heidi Comfort, wrote. In her own words, this is what Heidi would like people to know about being a woman with a disability.

By Heidi Comfort

My name is Heidi and I have Williams syndrome. I am eighteen-years-old and I like lots of things. I like jewelry a lot, make-up, clothes, shoes, music a ton and nail polish. I love animals a lot and I like to cook.

Williams syndrome is actually a gene that is missing. When you have Williams syndrome you are so nice that people appreciate it. You talk a lot and sometimes say things you don't mean. Having Williams syndrome makes me special but sometimes I wish I didn't have it. I wish I was just a regular person. I can't get a tattoo because I have a heart problem. Everything is hard because I have Williams syndrome. I don't know how to speak to boys sometimes. Sometimes kids tease me. They say bad things. They make fun of how I act. It makes me sad to talk about it. I don't feel normal and I don't like how I act sometimes.

I get to do lots of good things where I really have fun. I've met lots of famous people like Jennifer Aniston, Mathew Perry, Melissa Ethridge (she is really tight) and Courtney Cox. I got to be in a documentary with Oliver Sacks. Making the documentary was fun.

I want people to know that I can do lots of stuff. Nobody should make fun of me. If they do, I will cry. We should treat people with disabilities with respect. I will have Williams syndrome forever. Nothing can change that. I want a good life doing lots of good things. I want to take care of animals and have a good life and still be happy even with a disability.

Themes of Interdependence and Interconnectedness

Having a daughter with a disability propelled me into the disability rights movement and into the world of the "other." I have spent much of my time searching for ways to create opportunities for inclusion and leadership for Heidi; unfortunately, this has proved to be a difficult task. While searching for inclusive philosophies, I became intrigued with ideas of emancipatory spirituality and what this ideology has to offer in the way of creating more opportunities for people with disabilities. …

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