Disability Justice, Climate Change, and Eco-Ableism Panel


Disability Justice, Climate Change and Eco-Ableism is a Q&A panel event with disabled activists in the climate sphere. They discussed the ways that disabled folks have been cast aside within activism spaces, how disabled individuals are at a higher risk of climate disasters, and the wide-spread prevalence of ableism, especially casual ableism, in our society.

Disability Justice, Climate Change, and Eco-Ableism Panel
Kailani: Good evening, everyone, welcome to "Disability Justice, climate change and eco-
ableism" We are happy to welcome you. I’m Kailani Acosta, a third year Ph.D. student, I work
with Benjamin Kiesling and others. We would like to thank the Columbia arts and sciences
council for sponsoring tonight’s event.
This is the fourth and final event of the semester in the climate conversation series highlighting
critical topics at the intersection of earth science, sustainability.
Captioning tonight is provided by the National Captioning Institute. I would like to start by
magnifying the work and words of the native Americans. We recognize these indigenous people
and their displacement, dispossession and continued presence. This acknowledgment stands as
a reminder to reflect on our past as we contemplate our way forward. This event was imagined,
planned and made possible by Lauren Richie, a 19-year-old climate activist, writer and
podcaster and third year student at Columbia.
She’s creator of eco-gal, that promotes intersectional climate action and seeks to make
sustainable live manager possible by welcoming communities. Welcome me in joining our
moderator and host for the rest of the evening, Lauren Richie.
Lauren: Hi, Kailani, hi, everyone, thank you for tuning in to tonight’s event. I’m grateful to
everyone who came and showed up for this panel. I’m excited for this conversation. We have
three amazing panelists here today to have a conversation about disability justice, something
we don’t talk about often enough within the climate conversations especially within the
environmental sciences.
I’m excited for the conversation we’re going to have today. Without further ado, I will let the
three amazing panelists we have here today introduce themselves, let you know more about
the work they’re doing.
Daphne, why don’t you get us started.
Daphne: Hi, everyone. I’m so excited to be here. Lauren, thank you so much for inviting me to
this amazing event. I cannot wait for our conversation tonight.
I am a 23-year-old youth organizer. I’m a proud disabled youth activist. Born and raised in
Harlem. I got started in climate justice work shortly after I move away from home to attend
undergrad and while I attended undergrad I started to realize that the environment I was living
in at home was being consistently destroyed by the socioeconomic effects of the climate crisis.
Born and raised in west Harlem, I was seeing how urban planning and the racism of urban
planning was playing into the climate infrastructures in our community and nobody was

really talking about it. I didn’t see any disabled Latina organizers talking about how our
communities were at the forefront of the climate justice movement.
I do not think we can begin to combat the climate crisis if we’re not having all voices as part of
the conversation. So I’m so excited to be here, to be chatting with you all.
Lauren: Thank you. Gabi, why don’t you go next.
Gabi: Hi. Looks like I can’t restart my video. But I’m here. So I can -- thank you.
Hi, I’m Gabi Serrato Marks. I recently finished a Ph.D. in geochemistry and climate change at
M.I.T. I’m a climate scientist by training. And I primarily work now in science communication
and building better, more inclusive science communities and I also identify as disabled and that
has been quite the journey, trying to integrate climate science and my identity and -- as a
disabled person.
Thank you very much for having me. I’m excited for this conversation.
Lauren: Annie, your turn. Go ahead.
Annie: Hi. All right.
My name is Annie Segarra, online often known as Annie Eleni, the name I use for my YouTube
and social media platforms. I’m an activist and advocate for my disabled community, my lgbt
community and my multiple marginalizations that I experience.
And I guess something I do a lot is engage in dialogue online with my communities. Which has
allowed me to see parts of the conversation in climate change that are very often the neglected
in the big picture.
Something that has unfortunately taken a big focus in my work in the past few years is
conversations about straw bans in having -- straw bans in having to combat pollution issue and
explaining how something like that, not just straw bans specifically but these very blanket bans
and blanket statements about basically villainizing certain items as harmful to the environment
and not necessarily including disability in that dialogue is extremely dangerous, extremely
harmful to the communities.
So while I’m incredibly passionate about climate change and about protecting the planet, I also
believe that we should really leave room for that nuance, for how it is that we can include
disabilities in our efforts to combat climate change and how we can make it more accessible
and less ableist. I’m incredibly excited and encouraged that conversations like this are

Lauren: Thank you so much, all of you. I’m fangirling right now, being able to talk to all of you.
Thank you for the work you’re doing. For being such passionate advocates for disability justice
and climate justice as well. It’s all very, very inspiring. Thank you.
Now that that’s out of the way, my little fangirling moment, getting into the grounding for
conversation, a little bit of background. What are some of the greatest challenges faced by
people with disabilities and kind of as a two-fold question, why is disability justice then so
important? You can go in any order you’d like, just jump in.
Daphne: I’m going to jump in if that’s OK.
Something that I say is all justice is disability justice. There’s not one intersection that the
disability community doesn’t fall into. Health care. Racial justice. Lgbtq +justice. Reproductive
rights. The list goes on. Also very passionate about prevention, that’s a disability justice issue.
The thing is that people with disabilities, we’re not a monolith. We experience life in many
different ways. And all of our bodies are different.
The way that our lived experiences are, we exist on a spectrum. That spectrum is vast and very
beautiful. And I think it’s a misconception to think that disability justice can live in a silo because
the truth is, if you are not including voices of the disabled in your justice work, you’re missing --
you’re missing the point. You’re missing a whole community that has a need, and their voices
need to be amplified in those movements.
I think some of the biggest challenges we face is often not being seen as leaders. And having
the ability to lead, change and justice making conversations. When the truth is, people with
disabilities have been fighting for justice for decades. It’s ingrained within our community and
our culture because we have seen so often how we live in an open an invisible space and we
have to always wave the flag and say, “I’m here, we’re here”.
And I think that power, that determination, can ignite any issue that we set our minds to. And I
think that if you’re not including us in the conversation, you’re missing such amazing fire and
passion that can be included into your movement. I think similar to what Annie was saying, our
community is amazing, that we’ve learned that, you know, the ones who protect us are us.
We have a community of people who we, you know, swap medication, we swap chronic pain tip
we swap all these different -- different things just to keep us going.
And what that has taught us is no one is left behind. Nothing about us without us. We’re always
there and we have each other’s back no matter what. I think that, you know, as Annie was
saying, the thing we can bring to the conversation is the nuance and the fact that while the
climate crisis is incredibly important, there are communities being affected and oppressed by
the system and we have to uplift their voices first before we let the change-making make their
voices invisible.

Annie: Daphne, oh my god, you’ve made me so emotional. I literally have tears in my eyes right
now just in how I resonate with what you said about community and how, like, it’s -- the
disability community, being part of it, as much as maybe we don’t want to admit it, we are very
Right. And one of the most – people love to use that word very freely. The disabled community
is a very vulnerable community.
Often it comes with this emotion of pity, right? The disabled community is vulnerable. But it’s --
it is the system that keeps us that way. And we’re constantly having to kind of -- I have this
image in my mind of protecting our own and engaging in that kind of community and that kind
of, like, here’s what I’ve done. You try that. And not coming from a voice that is condescending,
of course. Not coming from a voice from outside the community like, “have you tried yoga yet?
Have you tried essential oils? Etc.” It’s a genuine like, “you and I are in similar positions, here’s
something that I tried. Let’s see if this works for you too.”
It’s such a different -- it’s a different language, really.
And so, I guess the root question was like, what is disability justice and why is it so important?
At its most basic, disabled people are people. And -- but they’re treated like they’re not. Within
the society and the system we live in. There are so many -- so many elements of the current
system an society we live in that constantly dehumanizes the entire community. Right down to
the language. Right down to, like, demanding that we separate ourselves from the identity.
Demanding that we use person-first language.
“Don’t call yourself a disabled person, call yourself a person with a disability.” That’s really one
of the only identities that exist to my knowledge, to my memory, that they demand that of. Like
– I can say I’m a gay person, I’m a Latina person. And there’s an assumed humanity and
personhood that comes with that. But if I say I’m a disabled person, “oh, no”.
Feathers are ruffled. Pearls are clutched. How dare you.
You must separate yourself from that identity.
So that implies to me that they hear disabled and humanity and personhood is taken away from
that. So that’s at its most basic. That’s why language and communication is very important to
me, also as an autistic person. But like, that’s at its most basic. And unfortunately, we have to
keep having that conversation that shows how neglected the disabled community is in almost
every conversation of activism, whether it’s feminism, and that’s where the future is accessible
came from, which is during the first women’s march in the United States, disability community
was very much neglected in the planning of that so the “future is accessible” came about to
kind of hold up a flag and be like, “y’all need to make this activism accessible and

And then -- in those conversations, in feminism, in the conversations about the environment
and climate change, we constantly kind of have to push our way into the space and be like,
“we’re here”.
Disabled community exists. We identify this way. We often have to unfortunately start at that
101 place, where we have to kind of educate people about how we see ourselves. And how --
and how our community actually is. Versus the idea that they’ve painted about disability, about
-- that we are some kind of, like, pitiful possibility for themselves and their loved ones.
Something that unfortunately has this like taintedness of, they would rather be dead than
disabled, which is a very common thing I’ve heard that is said throughout media.
So disability justice is important. Because it is. I don’t know how much more I can go into that
off the top of my head. But it’s important because it’s so neglected. And it really is so
unfortunate that we, every time we enter any kind of activism space, we have to start if the
beginning with how to integrate our community into the rest.
Gabi: I think the only other thing I would add to those excellent starting points there is that
disability can really touch everyone. And it can be either something you experience in your life
or that you experience as a partner, as a kid, as any kind of relationship that you have.
Disability can be part of that. So I think it’s important to recognize that there’s like the 20%-ish
or more of people who experience disability, that’s a U.S. statistic, but at least 20%, but then
there’s all the people who are older and have a hip replaced and at that point maybe they’re
experiencing something similar to what disabled people experience.
So sort of like what everyone was just saying that the way that we’re kind of cast to the side is
like that’s a different community is not accurate. Anyone could be disabled at any point in their
Lauren: Thank you so much to the three of you for sharing that insight and also your personal
experiences in that way. I think everything you guys have touched on has been so, so -- not just
inspiring but illuminating in the types of things like, Annie, what you were talking about with
the way that we kind of, I guess silo the disabled community with, trying to tell them how they
should identify or how they should speak. Like you were saying, language and communication is
so important that I want to make sure we get to that conversation when we talk about ableism
and how casual it can be and the way we don’t even think about it.
But with some of the other things you guys mentioned, being active in these spaces, what it’s
like to want to be an activist, to want -- what do you think are some of the biggest challenges
for disabled people in activism spaces. When we think about activism we think about the one
size fits all approach. You have to be at the marches, you have to be at the protest, there’s a lot
of things that go into that. That excludes a lot of different people and makes people feel they
can’t participate or that what they’re doing is not enough.

Have you ever felt left out of that one size fits all approach when it comes to social justice or
environmental activism? And what does activism or being an activist look like or mean to you?
Kind of a three-part question. But I would love to hear anything you have.
Annie: All right, I’ll go ahead.
That is a three-part question. I’m trying to organize my thoughts a little bit. Biggest
misconceptions about disability and activism and like being an activist.
I don’t know, I used to, when I was in high school and I was more able bodied I did used to go to
marches. Over time as my health declined with ehlers-danlo syndrome, I became a wheelchair
user, I have heat intolerance because of POTS, so there’s a lot of things that really keep me
from protesting outdoors, protesting in the streets. Also like, if I ever get maced I would have a
real problem because my – I have allergies that would close my throat in the presence of that
kind of pepper.
So, yeah, it would be a yikes. In my current interpretation of what being an activist is, is doing
whatever you can to spark change. Create change. For me that has taken on things such as
being visible online. And creating spaces for dialogue. Because little -- I say little but I don’t
I just -- I use the word little, projecting off what able bodied activists might think about it, to be
honest. It’s not so little to have these organized conversations and dialogue with community
and to make yourself visible on the Internet. It’s not actually such a small thing. Even if other
people would want to belittle that. I think it takes a lot of vulnerability. I think it takes a lot of
effort and time and patience. Which I don’t always have the most of.
Sometimes I’m -- like we’re having conversations today about straw bans and I’m a little like,
it’s been years. We’re still talking about it. So I’m not the most patient person but I do try. I
want to try to have these conversations. I’ll have them as many times as I need.
Because I have seen -- as I need to, because I have seen the potential it has, I have seen the
kind of changes that talking and talking and talking can make with people.
Something else that is a part of my activism that I have to repeat almost on a daily basis is that
ambulatory wheelchair users exist, that is wheelchair users with the ability to walk, stand,
dance, run, but still need to use their wheelchairs when they’re using them. And constantly
coming across people who don’t believe that. Don’t believe that there’s such a thing as
wheelchair users who can walk. If they ever see you so much as cross your legs while using a
wheelchair they feel entitled to harass you. Maybe assault you. Maybe call government services
on you and tell them that you’ve been lying about your disability.
So there’s a lot of risk. There’s a lot of danger right now just for wheelchair users who are
ambulatory. However, from repeatedly, repeatedly, almost on a daily basis having those

conversations, I am often met with the response, “oh, I never considered that that was a
And as much as that’s like a weird emotionally double-edged sword for me, like, it sucks to
hear, it’s also good to hear.
For me, sometimes, emotionally, when I hear, “I never considered that, it hurts.” I’m like why
have you never considered my community before? So it’s a little bit of an ouch.
I guess it’s like, if a date says, “I never thought of you that way.” It’s a little like, ouch. Why?
What’s wrong with me? Why haven’t you considered me?
But the second part is the really -- is the winning ticket. Which is, now the person has. Now they
have considered it. And now because I’m talking about it so much, hopefully I prevented that
person from ever harassing someone else who is in that position. Hopefully I prevented some
kind of nasty situation with this person and that person can go on to tell other people, you
know, and eventually it’ll be common knowledge and I won’t have to be so scared every time I
walk my dog and have to like stand up to pick up a poo or something. Eventually the day will
come where I will feel safe to do that without like anxiety about violence or harassment.
So I think that especially disabled activists need to give themselves more credit. It’s so easy, just
like how I started speaking right now. Doing these little things. They’re not so little. They really
They really impact a lot of things socially. They impact public opinion. They impact, eventually,
the politics of things. In essence of things I do like youtube videos and content creation. So
disabled activism is real activism. It doesn’t have to be – it doesn’t have to be looked down
upon. By the person doing it or by anybody else.
Daphne: Gabi, you go.
Gabi: One thing in the climate activism community, people do what Annie was talking about,
they say, I never considered that.
So, say I’m going to go on a podcast to talk about climate change. But it’s only in English – the
transcript is only in English. Once it’s pointed out people are like, “you’re right. I hadn’t thought
about how that’s only a small group of people or a smaller group than I could be reaching”. If
this were translated or there were a transcript or something along those lines.
But it’s like, how could you not have thought about it how could you have had the privilege
your whole life to have never thought about that?

That really resonates with me too. I hear that from climate scientists. I hear it from science
communicators who don’t caption their videos. People who say, I didn’t realize that anyone
blind might be looking at my Instagram feed. Like, yes.
Consider it. And do something about it.
I think when people, especially scientists, are talking about outreach, often times the disabled
community is one that’s sort of forgotten about or not considered.
Daphne: Yeah, that got me.
I’ve been a public health scholar for the last 10 years of my life. I’m old and young, even though
I’m 23, it’s weird.
When I tell people that I’m a scientist they’re like, question mark, what, you do science? I’m
like, yeah, actually.
I’m getting my MD/MPH right now at Johns Hopkins.
I’ve been working toward this goal for so many years. But when I tried to tell people that the
climate crisis is a public health issue, they’re like, what? What are you talking about? You’re
literally crazy.
It’s just like, your disability invalidates any other knowledge you may possess in your head
because that is the only thing that people are going to see you as. You are constantly having to
weed through that mirage and be like, yes, I have other identities. I do other things.
My disability is a huge part of me but it doesn’t completely encompass who I am as a person.
Just in general, the fields of STEM are incredibly ableist. It’s insane when I think about, when I
was applying for medical schools, admissions committees told me my disability would be a
liability to my patients. You don’t think I thought about that before I invested thousands of
dollars to go to medical school?
But in the activism space, the thing I try to tell my disabled students is, this space is going to try
to commodify your voice and commodify your story.
You fit that narrative that makes great photo ops, that brings in donations and brings in grants. I
think it’s really important to go into those spaces knowing your story in and out, in a way that
you know your voice is entirely and completely valid and that no, you know, no organization or
any system is going to make you waiver in your strength of your story.
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been contacted by -- contacted about being on this, being
on that doing this panel, whatever it may be. And coming to see that I’m only there for the

diversity quota or that specific photo op. And it’s like, our voices matter more than just that
moment. Or when -- or your allyship should matter when no one is watching. Your allyship
should be there when everything is gone, the cameras are gone, the social media is gone, that’s
when it matters.
I always say the power of story telling is so important. If you can see someone out there doing
what you want to do, speaking up and embracing their story wholeheartedly the way you wish
you could, it helps you become that version of yourself that you want to be. So I say for anyone
listening, embrace your stories. Embrace the power of your stories. No matter how many other
similar identities might intersect, no one is you. No one can tell your story, no one can hold the
space that you hold. So own it and be proud of it.
Lauren: That was beautiful. Thank you so, so much for sharing. Yes, I completely,
wholeheartedly agree with everything you all talked about. Especially -- because I think we’re
transitioning this conversation a little bit into environmentalism, we talked about straw bans,
we’re going to get there, we’re going to talk about those right now.
But from what we just talked about, how it is, you know, there is ways that disabled individuals
have been kind of cast aside within activism spaces. Especially when it comes to the climate
crisis, that’s a very big conversation in itself.
One of the ways disabled people are vulnerable to the impacts of the climate crisis, we can get
into what those are, but how disabled individuals are not prioritized when it comes to policy,
when it comes to adaptation and to plans. The climate conversation in general. The ways that
disabled individuals have been not included in this conversation. I would love to hear from the
three of you about your experience with how disabled people have been treated within the
context of the climate crisis.
Annie: Your first part of your question is how climate change impacts disabled people, right?
How doesn’t it?
So I guess like, the first, most obvious response in my mind is, the natural disasters and the
issues with evacuation. And the issues with relocation. For areas that may become flooded. I
live in Florida so yikes. We thought about that.
We’ve thought about how Miami might disappear at some point. And we’ve managed to figure
out some money to move a little bit more north but still in Florida. It’s a scary situation. But
natural disasters like hurricanes and blizzards and earthquakes and forest fires, like, it’s
happening already.
Even -- like nix the natural disasters, it’s happening already that many buildings don’t have any
kind of adequate plan regarding wheelchair users and nonworking elevators and how they are
having to evacuate. That’s at its most basic and simple. You don’t even need a natural disaster
you don’t know how you’re getting your disabled citizens to safety.

So -- and then -- so that’s natural disasters on their own but then climate change in general
does in fact impact health.
Another situation that I personally deal with is, so, I have post-yurel orthostatic tachycardia
(POTS) syndrome, where heat causes me to faint. In summers in Florida in a house that’s not
insulated, I’m fainting the entire summer. I lose my entire summer because I’m knocked out.
I’m asleep because my body cannot handle to get up. It’s a blood pressure issue. Because of the
heat, my blood vessels aren’t working properly and I can’t get up. So gosh. It is such a big
That’s why the first thing I said is, how doesn’t it? Climate change affects our health. Of
disabled people. And of people who are not yet disabled but may become disabled by climate
change. As well as how do you get your disabled members to safety in regards to natural
disaster evacuations. It goes on. I can definitely leave space for the rest of us to continue
speaking on it but yeah, it’s a lot.
Daphne: I’m trying to like not think about the straw thing.
That’s like swimming in the back of my head because I was at a restaurant today and I asked for
a straw and they were like, no, and I was like, I can’t have this argument right now. That’s a
thing. But I think something that isn’t talked about, because it’s a little more nuanced, but the
fact that when we talk about the climate crisis and how to solve it, there’s a huge focus on
individualistic impacts, like recycling, doing stuff like that. While that is important, the biggest
goal we need to be reaching for is divestment, right?
So when people try to put the onus on the disabled community to somehow do a part of the
work to end the climate crisis, it’s like, we’re facing multiple systems of oppression that have
led to the climate crisis and ableism in the first place. How are you asking an already oppressed
community to sacrifice their bare minimum, to sacrifice the products and devices that they
need to literally survive?
Like, my -- like 75% of my wheelchair is made of plastic. Are you telling me to throw away my
I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing.
So I think it’s about stop scapegoating disabled people because you feel like they’re easy
targets and you feel like we’re not doing enough on the climate crisis when you should be
focused on divestment because that’s the only way to solve the climate crisis. I also think that
the climate crisis can also make people disabled. And aggravate disabilities. When we talk
about, you know, the forest fires at the beginning of last year. There’s still friends of mine who
lost all their mobility devices and all of their equipment that they need to survive and more
than 365 days later still don’t have those things.

They’re surviving on the bare minimum. Or barely surviving at all, to be honest. And it’s like, I’m
sorry I can’t be concerned about the earth burning but like, I can’t breathe. I can’t leave my
house. It’s those things where it’s like, you have to meet the community where it’s at and
address sort of the co-morbidities and quality of life issues that they’re facing before you can
have conversations about how do we as a community stop the climate crisis.
Because to be honest, people with disables are exploited by the same industries and the same
communities that have exacerbated the climate crisis in the first place. So we’re not trying to be
enemies of the climate crisis.
We feel the same systems of oppression. We feel the same impacts. We have to work together
instead of being alienate because of straws and ridiculous notions.
When make -- when we can put away those arbitrary, you know, conversations, we can really
come together to make a difference. But until we shift our perspective on what’s really
important, we’re not going to get anywhere.
Gabi: I’ve seen a shocking amount of hostility coming from scientists towards disabled activists
and people who are saying, you know, all this pollution in the ocean. I know.
Like I’ve read the same textbooks as you. I’ve read the same articles as you. I know. But at the
same time, like, we are saying that this is something that we need. And no one wants to be
wasteful, right? No one wakes up in the morning and is like, “I will waste so much plastic
today.” I don’t think. Like, I doubt that there’s anyone like purposefully throwing things away.
No one wants to do that. But people literally just can’t conceive of the fact that like, you might
need to like maintain a sterile port and that involves throwing a lot of things away.
It would be cheaper to be able to reuse it or to be able to sanitize it or something, there’s
plenty of motivations. So I think reducing that hostility, like, I’ve literally had a climate scientist
say to me like, “I don’t get the whole thing with a straw ban, bring your own effing straw. Have
you worked in a restaurant?” It’s so much anger because people are so passionate about it. And
instead we could work together and say, “these forest fires are awful. They are impacting the
forest, the land, the soil, and they are also impacting the people who live there, including
people who have lost mobility.”
It doesn’t have to be one or the other. It could be something we work together and by including
disabled activists and disabled scientists, I think we could make a big difference.
Lauren: I think everything you talked about just now is a great segue into a conversation that
we’ve just been having about how exclusionary, you know, the climate community, climate
action can be when it comes to disabled individuals.
And also just thinking about language and communication when it comes to ableism as well. I
think ableism is something that I’ve heard talked about a lot more now. I hadn’t heard that

term used before. And I think now that people are educating themselves more, to learn more
about what ableism is, how it shows up in our everyday life, I think there is, you know, a lot of
the education process which is explaining to people why, I guess, going off what Gabi was
saying, why things don’t make sense.
Bringing your own straw to the restaurant when you don’t bring your own forks to the
restaurant. But little -- not little, but things like that. That we don’t normally think about.
So I guess as grounding for this conversation, what is ableism? What is casual ableism? How do
they show up in our everyday life? And more examples of how climate activism can be ableist?
And this -- I’m going to wait for the next question. I’ve been giving you a lot of questions all at
once. Let’s start there and then move on.
Daphne: I’m going to start, if that’s OK. Unless you want to go?
So the first thing that comes to mind, not to do with climate but the idea of inspiration and
Like what is that? I can spend six hours talking about that because it’s like, for example, when I
got into med school I was sitting around the table, a cafeteria table with my mentors and I said,
“I did it, I got into med school, it’s crazy.” And every literally, started crying.
“Why are you crying? Did someone die? Did I miss something?”
Everybody is like, “you did it. Despite your disability!”
Oh my God. I’m going to roll away now. Because I’m not emotionally prepared for this
conversation. And my thing is like, if an able-bodied person was going into med school would
y’all be crying? I don’t think so.
And it’s the fact that like society has villainized disabilities so much that it’s like -- like we’re so
vehemently opposed to the idea that our bodies might not always be functioning the way they
should be, that the minute that someone does something that’s very common place it’s like,
wow. You’re an Olympian, you’ve done it.
It’s like, we’re just living our normal lives. We’re just living our life. Like we’re best able to. And I
think instead of using the word inspiration, I always say there’s nothing wrong with motivation.
Seeing someone doing something and saying, you know, I always wanted to do that too.
Or I’ve never seen another young Latina doing the work that, you know, I’m doing. Seeing what
I’m doing and feeling motivated by that. I think just that gradual shift from inspiration to
motivation is like radically different. Because inspiration, I think, stems from a place of pity,
where it’s like, you didn’t expect the person to be able to accomplish it.

So now that they have you’re like, I don’t even know what to do with myself! And you should
never have that seed of doubt in the first place. Just because I’m disabled, just because we’re
disabled, does not mean that we cannot accomplish our goals.
Doesn’t mean that in 10 years I cannot -- I can become the President of the United States. I can
do whatever I want to do. And I think it’s just -- it’s those gradual steps that fight the archaic
notion that disability is a death sentence.
Especially communities of color, this is so important. In communities of color, the amount of
ableism you see is 10-fold because it’s the fact that like, we cannot even come to fathom that
that something is wrong and that you aren’t -- especially as, you know, a second generation
American, you know, granddaughter of immigrants who come to this country, you want your
family to be better. Then your grand kid comes up with a disability an it’s like, I failed. That’s it.
The whole dream is over and like there’s nothing left for me. And I mean, I was diagnosed with
cerebral palsy when I was 3 years old. It’s been 20 years since I was diagnosed with disability.
My grandma still can’t fathom me walking the streets by myself. It’s the notion that like, we
have to dismantle those systems that are being disabled – that being disabled means you
cannot be accomplished, that you cannot reach for your goals.
And I think the more that we begin to unlearn those -- those practices and those habits, the
better we will be. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen videos go viral of young kids
walking for the first time. With prosthesis or braces. And it’s like, OK. Like why are we all having
a moment over this person’s achievement?
Like, I believed they could do it. Why doesn’t everyone else believe that as well? So I think -- I
understand that there’s been so much societal, like, society has trained us to think this way. So
to begin to unlearn that is hard. But I think just being conscious of that little -- those little shifts.
Like we were saying: communication, tone, and verbiage is very, very subtle. But extremely
important. Because the connotation makes all the difference in the way that we see the
community as a whole.
Annie: Yes. All of that. Oh my goodness.
And thank you for starting us off that way because ableism is such a huge, huge conferring. The
same way that sexism or racism is an entire semester of classes and information, like, we --
we’re running low on time to like even really get a whole grasp of it.
There is the inspiration and pity ableism that people experience which you were talking about.
Then there’s like a more overt, like disgust and undesired nature of it as well. I think inspiration
and pity is an important one to talk about because a lot of people don’t perceive that as a bad
thing to do, as an ableist thing. But I’m being kind. I’m big charitable.

It’s just like, you viewing disability as some kind of charity or pity is part of the problem. You
need to be able to see that they are human beings. That we’re human beings.
And a part of your communities. Speaking of part of your communities, you also touched on
ableism in communities of color, such a complex topic as well. Communities of color also often
like, communities of poverty as well. So there’s a lack of access to, like, health care and
medicine and information.
As well as that like, in the United States, an immigration issue, where there’s a lot of pressure
to achieve a capitalist American dream and the moment that like maybe your parents find out
you have a disability they’re like, that’s it. Now we can’t. We failed. An there’s no opportunities
for us.
Definitely, I’ve experienced some of that in my Latino family, where they’re like, there was huge
meltdowns about discovering that I had a disability because I was undiagnosed the majority of
my life and figured it out in my 20’s. I had to basically, again, because of medical -- medical
ableism and medical bias I had to essentially self-diagnose before I finally ripped the hospital
apart and was like, test me for this. And they did and I was correct.
So there’s so many different barriers and then of course there’s that surprise at our capacity.
I’m surprised to see you out at a bar. I’m surprised to see you in medical school. If you take a
few minutes to think about it, to consider it, it’s not a matter of necessarily disability that would
prevent someone from doing it.
It’s the accessibility of the institution of the space that would allow me to come inside. And I
said a bar as an example because I have personal experiences with like being at a bar and just
because I’m using a wheelchair, oh, I’ve had drunk abled people cry in my face just at the sight
of me.
Because wow, how overwhelming to like see a wheelchair user at the bar. That’s sarcasm.
But they were overwhelmed. And then, so we got inspiration and pity. You’ve got disgust and
lack of desire. Surprise at our capacity which is really like -- it’s ableist because you’re not
considering that the system is what’s holding us down, not necessarily our bodies.
But I also want to kind of put lack of consideration and neglect onto like the ableist umbrella
because as much as I think that there’s a debate, right, of if an act is benevolent or if there’s no
intent, then it can’t be that bad. However, I think that when you accidently murder people,
then yeah, you’re still going to be in the certain level of health, sorry, too bad if you didn’t
intend to do it. I don’t know.
But that’s a nuanced conversation of course. But the topics that come to mind is definitely the
straw conversation and COVID. And how people, their behavior throughout the pandemic has

very much neglected disabled lives and basically upon the knowledge of like, this disease will
only impact elderly people and disabled people, so many people decided that those lives didn’t
matter and so they can behave however they want.
Because they’re going to die anyway. That was the big thing.
So lack of consideration and neglect in that way for me is also under the definition of ableism.
And I’m like, I’m heading there because I know we’ve been teasing about straw conversation
for a while. And I don’t think we’re going to get to really have it.
But I do want to say that if you have been listening to comments about straws throughout
this conversation tonight, there is a video that I created explaining the entire thing. Called
"straw bans are dangerous for disabled people," it’s on YouTube. It goes from beginning to end
about how like once upon a time there was a viral turtle that got a straw stuck in its nose and
everyone got very upset and decided we should ban all plastic straws.
To which at one point I did make a twitter comment that was like, so, if the turtle had a condom
stuck in its nose we would ban all condoms? Yeah.
The whole thing was ridiculous. Plastic straws are a medical necessity for so many people and
no, they cannot use whatever other thing you’re suggesting. Hemp? Allergies exist. Metal and
glass? Disabled people are often -- maybe a little clumsy. And there’s even a story out there of
someone using a metal or glass straw and stabbed them through the eye. Sorry if that’s graphic.
And they died because they were using a -- they were a disabled person using a metal or glass
straw. And they fell on it.
So all these like reusable things are big risks for disabled people. And often not considered in
these conversations.
And I’m sure Gabi has more information about how like actually straws are not even a huge
problem in the grand scheme of things. But yeah.
So that, just to round off my point that I think that the lack of integration between
communities, between abled and disabled communities, creates that lack of consideration.
Creates that neglect of our communities because people are very satisfied with that hierarchy.
People are satisfied to be segregated, abled and disabled.
Happy to live and in the obliviousness of life. I’m an able-bodied person, I think my immune
system is great, I’m going to go out and do whatever I want and not care if I infect other people
because they don’t -- they’re not close enough to the community to have any kind of empathy.
So that’s why I consider that as a form of ableism as well.

Gabi: I can’t add to that. So for the sake of time – for the sake of time, I’m going to say those
are excellent, excellent positions.
Lauren: We do only have three minutes left but I guess it is the final question, which is great.
I would love to hear from the three of you, we talked about the main issues are that we’re
facing when it comes to disability justice, when it comes to ableism, when it comes to how
disabled people are cast aside in climate conversations. What would you like to see for the
future of disability justice?
And even for people who may be tuning in who want to, I guess, get involved in disability
justice, figure out ways to educate themselves, become more conscious, places to donate to,
volunteer to. When it comes to disable justice what would you like to see be done?
Gabi: I have a short one for this.
I would like to see people not considering A.D.A. compliance as like the goal. I would like to see
that compliance with laws that say that we should have access is like the very base level and
that we should strive for inclusion. I think that that’s something for everyone to think about,
climate scientists included.
Because it is -- in institutions it’s so ingrained. If you meet the A.D.A. requirements you have
checked that box. And then you can move on. So I think just moving forward, anyone can think
like, it’s not good enough to just be compliant.
We should be truly inclusive.
Daphne: I’m going to share a tiny little story that correlates with what you just said, Gabi.
I ended up going to state school for undergrad. I was accepted to Harvard University. When I
got accepted, you know, it was being a granddaughter of immigrants it was like, I did it. I have
reached the thing, I’m great.
Everyone immediately in the Dominican Republic thought I was the President of the United
States. That was greatest time of my life.
It was very short-lived because about a week later, when I had accepted my admission I was
speaking to the accessibility -- student accessibility services center and they told me, “Give us a
year to make our campus more accessible for you and then you can attend.”
I was like, “so I’m supposed to just sit here for a whole, entire year and, I don’t know, learn how
to paint or something? And wait for you, one of the most quote-unquote, prestigious
institutions in our country to make it OK for me to attend your university?”

Mind you, when you read my personal statement, I spoke about my disability. I live very openly
with my disability. It was not a secret.
And that’s to say that things like marking the 30 th anniversary of the A.D.A., that’s amazing, but
what does that even mean? Like, yes, we like those 30 years but with the community and the
needs we still have, how much better are they actually in the span of those 30 years than
before that? And I think that law, while it’s important, it creates a level of complacency
amongst able bodied individuals. “I did it, I’m not going to get the lawsuit. I’m not going to get
Especially for like establishments and businesses, once they meet those requirements, they get
that check from the service industry people, they’re like, we’re good to go. It’s like, but does
your restaurant have a bathroom I can use inside? Do you have tables that are not like bar
height tables? Like stuff like that.
Where it’s like, the bare minimum isn’t enough. I also think for folks tuning in who are like, how
do we center, or how do we center disabled voices in activism?
Invite them to the conversations. Ask them to be part of the conversation. And learn when it’s
time for you to step back and just listen and let them speak. Because I promise you, we have a
lot of stuff to say. And it’s probably things you haven’t heard before. And I think when we’re
offering advice, sometimes it can come off a little bit hostile. And it’s because we’ve dealt with
a lot of -- a lot of crap and a lot of just running around and just overall impression that when we
finally have someone willing to listen it’s like, we’re just going to let it all out.
I advise people to, like, don’t take it personally. We’re not angry at you. I’m just angry at the
whole system. The whole thing.
So take the passion with a grain of salt but really listen to what we have to say. And continue
inviting us to conversations. Continue asking questions.
But also do your research. There’s so much out there about our communities. We are writers.
We are actors. We’re doctors. We’re scientists. We’re doing everything imaginable.
And we are changing the game as -- as it happens. But oftentimes we’re not put at the forefront
of even our own projects.
Because again, disability is not palatable. So do your research.
Find, you know, people with disabilities who inspire you. Who motivate you. Because we’re out
there, we’re doing awesome work.
Annie: All of that I absolutely agree.

I think that disability is incredibly important to the disability justice movement. I think a lot of
the work is being done within the disability community.
However, I would really like to see an immense change in like the poor allyship that I’m
constantly critiquing.
It’s growing slowly but it’s so important that if you do not see disabled people in your life, and if
you do not see disabled activists in your life and you seek them out and you follow them on
whatever social media that you’re on, you seek out that are work, you seek out their essays,
you seek out their videos, and you become more informed on what is going on, so that way you
don’t accidently step on or accidently literally kill anybody with the actions that you do in your
daily life or that you participate in.
Just to circle back to what I was saying before about like neglect and like lack of consideration.
Lack of knowledge.
Like that is on us as individuals to continue to seek out information, continue to try to be more
informed as opposed to just laying in complacency and being all right with obliviousness
because we feel more at peace that way. It’s actually actively harmful to communities when
you do that.
Lauren: Thank you to the try three of you. I know we’re five minutes over time so thank you to
every who stayed to the end.
You guys have shared such amazing points, just snaps, spinning facts -- spitting facts all around.
I’m grateful to have been able to have this conversation with all of you. Thank you again for
coming and sharing your insight and all the knowledge that you’ve dropped and all the
educational content. Thank you so, so much.
For everyone tuning in, check them out. On -- I will link their Instagrams and YouTube channels
and social handles down below so you can check them out. That’s all that we have for you.
I’m so fangirling still, as you can tell.
Thank you so, so much for the conversation.

Panelist Bios:

Daphne Frias

Daphne Frias is a 23-year-old youth activist. She is unapologetically Latina. Daphne has Cerebral Palsy and uses a wheelchair to ambulate. She is fiercely proud to be a loud champion for the disabled community. Born and raised in West Harlem, NYC, she has seen how minority communities are disproportionately affected by climate change. Her passion for advocacy propelled her to run from county committee women of Assembly District 70, Election District 80 in West Harlem. In June of 2019, Daphne won her election and continues to work hard to represent her constituents. In the spring of 2019, she was appointed as one of the North American Regional Focal Points for Sustainable Development Goal 16 at the U.N. Major Group for Children and Youth. In this position, she works to highlight and represent the voice of her fellow youth and the work they are doing to become pivotal peacemakers. 

Annie Segarra

Annie Segarra, also known as Annie Elainey, is an American YouTuber, artist, and activist for LGBT and disability rights. Segarra, who is queer, Latinx, and disabled, advocates for accessibility, body positivity, and media representation of marginalized communities.

Gabi Serrato Marks 

Gabi Serrato Marks is a climate scientist and patient advocate based in Boston. She earned her Ph.D. in geochemistry in the MIT-WHOI Joint Program in 2020 and is now the Senior Program Coordinator for Postbaccalaureate Training at the Broad Institute. Gabi is passionate about fighting ableism, building inclusive science communities, and drinking iced coffee.