We sit down with Vilissa Thompson, an activist and disability rights advocate who is also the creator of Ramp Your Voice!, a disability rights consultation and advocacy organization that promotes self-advocacy & empowerment for PwDs. She created the viral hashtag #DisabilityTooWhite, spurring people to share instances of erasure of people of color with disabilities from media to medicine.
Learn more about Ramp Your Voice!:
The RYV Syllabus:
Zach: What’s up, y’all? Now, listen, before we get into the “It’s Zach and it’s Ade,” I just want to go ahead and say Ade, welcome back. I missed you, dawg.
Ade: What’s good, what’s good?
Zach: What’s good? So listen–and, you know, our topic actually is very serious this episode, but I want to just go ahead and get the jokes out first, because once we get this interview done, I want to go ahead and wrap it right there, right? So, you know, what I love about Living Corporate is we dismantle–we seek, rather, ’cause I’m–let me not say that we dismantle anything, but we seek to at least address openly different stereotypes, challenges, and biases, you know, for people of color and how they really impact folks, especially in the workplace. And I want to talk about colorism really quick. Now, you’re gonna be like, where am I going with this? Y’all probably listening to this like, “What are you talking about?” That’s cool. So educational point for my non-melanated brothers and sisters out there. My non-Wakandans. My Buckys. My Winter Soldiers, if you will.
Ade: Winter Soldiers… okay.
Zach: In the black community we talk about colorism, and we attribute certain behaviors to certain black folks of specific hues.
Ade: Here we go. Oh, here we go.
Zach: A popular myth is that lighter-skinned black people do not answer their text messages. They leave–
Ade: Actually, that’s very true.
Zach: They leave text messages on Read. Their text messages are on swole, as it were.
Ade: I can’t stand you.
Zach: And I want to really recognize Ade.
Ade: I only have 250 unread messages. You really can’t play me like this.
Zach: Ade is–and I’m not gonna–I hate it when people use food to describe women, but Ade is pretty chocolate, okay? She’s pretty dark.
Ade: You have to fight me after this.
Zach: And yet she does not read her text messages.
Ade: You’re gonna have to run me the fade.
Zach: She actually–in fact, just the other day I texted Ade, and she said, “Oh, hey,” and I said, “Oh.”
Ade: It’s on sight, I promise.
Zach: You want to hit me with the “Oh?” Like, “Funny to see you here.” That’s what she hit me with, y’all. Like, “Oh.”
Ade: [sighs] Are you done?
Zach: Hey, [in accent] are you done?
Ade: [in accent] Are you done?
Zach: [in accent] Are you done?
Ade: See, you can’t even–you can’t pull a me on me.
Zach: Man, I was so disappointed. I was like–man, I mean, if anything, based on these stereotypes, I should be the one ignoring your text messages. But you know what? For me to ignore Ade’s text messages, y’all, guess what? She’d have to text me in the first doggone place.
Zach: Wow. Whoa.
Ade: This is a kind of rude I really did not intend on dealing with on tonight–
Zach: So I want to say thank you, because last week we had–well, the last week before last, excuse me, we had Marty Rodgers. You know, it was a big deal. The dude is, like–he’s like black consulting royalty in the DMV. You would think Ade would want to be on that podcast episode, you know what I mean?
Ade: You’re gonna have to fight me. I’ve decided. I’ve decided it’s a fight to a death.
Zach: [laughs] Oh, man. So I’m just thankful. I’m just so–this is me, like, publicly thanking Ade for being here and for texting me back. I don’t know–
Ade: I just want to say that I’m a good person and I don’t deserve this.
Zach: [laughs] You know what I think it was? I think it was the fact that we all got back on BlackPlanet for a couple days to check out that Solange content.
Zach: I think that reset our chakras.
Ade: Who is we?
Zach: Or our ankhs. I don’t know. We don’t have–we don’t have chakras.
Ade: Who are we? I don’t–
Zach: Us as a diaspora. I feel as if that’s–are you not a Solange fan? You didn’t enjoy the Solange album?
Ade: It has to grow on me, and I understand that that is sacrilegious, but I will say this–
Zach: And you’re supposed to be from the DMV too? Everybody from the DMV likes Solange.
Ade: Let me tell you something. I listened–I waited until midnight. There is a screenshot on my phone of me starting to listen to this album at, like, 12:10, and I think at around 12:20 I was like, “You know what? Some things aren’t for everybody.” Everything, in fact, is not for everybody.
Zach: That’s real though.
Ade: And I paused and went to sleep.
Zach: Really? Wow. You know, I really enjoyed it, but I had to enjoy it ’cause she shouted out Houston a lot on the album. Like, a lot, so I enjoyed it off of that alone. And I’m also just a huge Solange fan, but, you know, I get it. It’s one step at a time.
Ade: Look, I too–I too am a huge Solange fan. A Seat at the Table is an everlasting bop of an album.
Zach: Oh, it is. That’s a classic. It’s a very good album. It’s, like, perfect.
Ade: Yeah. This one–this one’s just gonna have to pass me by and/or grow on me in 2 to 4 years. I don’t know.
Zach: You know, it’s interesting because–it’s interesting because I was used to–based on A Seat at the Table. This is not a music podcast, y’all. We’re just getting our fun stuff out the way first. So it’s interesting, because as a person who really enjoys Solange’s words–like, A Seat at the Table, she had a lot of words. Didn’t get a lot of words on this album.
Ade: I’m told that it’s–the experience is better if you watch the–I don’t know what to call it. The visual–
Zach: The visual album?
Ade: Yeah, the visual album, in conjunction with it.
Zach: Yeah, I’m actually gonna peep it. Fun fact. A couple weeks ago I told y’all about me playing Smash Bros., the video game, and I’m in a GroupMe, and one of the guys who I play Smash Bros. with was actually in the visual album.
Ade: Oh, really?
Zach: That’s right, ’cause I got–those are the kind of circles I roll in.
Ade: You know famous video players. Video game players.
Zach: Yeah. Video game players, yeah. And as a side-note, he is very good at Super Smash Bros., so there. Maybe he’ll be on an episode–on the podcast one day. Who knows? We’ll see. Okay, so with that, let’s do a very hard pivot.
Ade: Sharp left turn.
Zach: Sharp left, into our topic for the day. So we’re talking about being disabled while other at work, and it’s interesting because similar to how we brought up the Solange album out of nowhere, I was not really thinking about the fact that we don’t really consider the experiences of just disabled people period, let alone disabled people of color at work.
Zach: I’m trying to think. Like, how many times have you worked with someone who was a person of color and disabled at work?
Ade: So the thing to also think through here is the fact that there are lots of hidden disabilities.
Zach: That’s fair. That’s a good call-out.
Ade: Yeah, so there’s a wide, wide range of conditions. Physical disabilities can also be invisible, but there are chronic illnesses, there are mental illnesses, cognitive disabilities, visual impairments, hearing impairments. According to the Census Bureau–apparently the ADA, the Americans with Disabilities Act, applies to or covers approximately 54 million Americans. Of those I’m sure many, many millions are people of color or black people in particular, and so yeah, I don’t know how many people–how many people of color I’ve ever worked with who are disabled or who are living with a disability, but I certainly think that it’s important that, as a whole, we think about how to create a more inclusive work culture that empowers people with disabilities that’s not patronizing or demeaning or just outright hostile.
Zach: No, I super agree with that, and just such a fair call-out to say that there’s so many folks that–who do not have visible disabilities but are–who are living with a disability, and it’s important that we think about that and we think–we’re thoughtful about that too, so again, just my own ignorance, and it was interesting because in preparing and researching for this particular episode, it was hard to find comprehensive data, especially content that was specific to black and brown disabled experiences. I think for me–kind of taking a step back and going back to answer my own question, any [inaudible] I’ve worked with who have a visible disability–I have not worked with anybody in my career who has had a visible disability, visible to me anyway. And, you know, I think it’s interesting. I was reading a piece. It was called “Black and Disabled: When Will Our Lives Matter?” And it was written by Eddie Ndopu. And this was back in 2017. He’s the head of Amnesty International’s youth engagement work for Africa, and his overall premise was historically black resistance and civil rights and things of that nature has always presented the black body as the point of resistance, right? And ultimately the image of the black form is one of strength and solidarity and able-bodiedness, right? And it’s presenting this strong quote-unquote normal body as the ideal to then push up against oppression, systemic racism, and–I’m gonna present this, and I want–I’ma dare you to try to break this form, this body. And in that there’s a certain level of bias, because it then automatically erases the idea of different bodies, of disabled bodies, and if that’s the case then it’s like, “Okay, well, then where do they fit in this narrative? Where do they fit in our story? Where do they fit in our resistance?” And so it’s just really interesting to me, because I think it’s just kind of calling out our own blind spots. As much as Living Corporate–we aspire to talk about and highlight the experiences and perspectives of underrepresented people in Corporate America. It’s season 2 and we’re just now talking about being disabled while other at work, and so, you know, it really confirmed for me how little I think about my privilege as an able-bodied person. It’s a huge privilege in the fact that we’re seen. We think that we’re invisible, and in a variety of ways we are, but disabled people of color are even much less visible than we are.
Ade: Right, and I also think that now is such a good time to start thinking through the conversations that we should be having, because we live in a time and a space where everyone’s rights are sort of up for grabs, and it’s especially important that we are holding space and creating a safe space for people who have less privilege than we do, and it’s not enough that you give it a passing thought, because then you might as well be sending thoughts and prayers, right? And I think that if you have the ability to do something, it’s–and, you know, opinions may vary, but I am firmly of the belief that if you have the ability to do something, it is your responsibility to do something, even if what you’re doing is something so simple as having a conversation or amplifying the voice of those who aren’t able to have that conversation.
Zach: I agree with that, and that’s really all the more reason why I’m excited and thankful for the guest that we have today. Her name is Vilissa Thompson. She is a disabled activist, public speaker, educator, consultant, and writer. Yeah, she’s putting in the work. And we had a great conversation, and I really want y’all to hear it and check it out, so this is what I’m gonna do. We’re gonna transition–wait, you know what? Ade, so I know we said we got the jokes in. We got the jokes in at the beginning ’cause I really wanted to give space for Vilissa, and we’re going to. Do we want to come back and do Favorite Things?
Ade: Yeah. Yeah, sure. Let’s do that.
Zach: All right. Cool, cool, cool. So that’s what we’ll do. So we’ll go with our conversation with Vilissa, we’ll talk about that, and then we’ll get into the Favorite Things.
Ade: Awesome, okay.
Zach: All right, talk to y’all soon. And we’re back. And as we shared before the break, we have Vilissa Thompson on the show. Vilissa, how are you doing?
Vilissa: I am doing great.
Zach: We’re really excited for you to be here. So today we’re talking about being disabled and being a person of color. Can you talk a bit about Ramp Your Voice! and where that idea came from and its mission and–just give us the origin story.
Vilissa: Yes. Well, Ramp Your Voice! was founded in 2013, you know, as a way for me to discuss my experiences as a black disabled woman, as a social worker, and just the things that I’ve just noticed with my professional world as well as personally. When I–a year before that I started blogging more as a social worker blogger that was discussing social work through a disability lens, talking about different issues on that front. When[that wasn’t really popular as a profession?] at that time, the profession had just started doing more things online, people coming up with different blogs and different platforms. So at the beginning of that, that really kind of helped me get to where I am when it comes to blogging, talking about the disabled experience from many different angles. So getting that experience [at 12?] led me to create my [inaudible] at 13, and we’re 5 years now, soon to be going on 6 in 2019. You know, it has really grown into this organizational aspect to where, you know, I’m able to project myself as a voice within the community that really calls out some of the mess, you know, in a light way of saying it, that happens within the disabled community, as well as getting those who are in the broader society to understand that disability, you know, is very much a facet, you know, in the people, as well as their different identities and experiences. For me basically, I like to call myself a rightful troublemaker, because I don’t feel that you’re really doing good work, particularly if you’re doing social justice, you know, if you’re not shaking the table, if you’re not ticking off somebody.
Zach: Vilissa, I was agreeing with you because I think that, you know, when you’re talking about topics around race and gender and really any topic around equity, right, and affirming or empowering disenfranchised groups, often ignored groups, right, like the disabled community, the disabled people of color community. If there isn’t some type of discomfort there, then there probably isn’t gonna be any growth, right? Like, in any other context when we talk about getting better or growing, like, there’s some type of discomfort there, right? So, like, professional development or working out and getting new muscles or just growing as a person. You know, like, you have–you have pains. Having a child, there’s pains associated with that. So there’s just historically, and just as a matter of life, when you change and pain kind of–they go hand-in-hand, and they have historically in this nation as well. So it’s just funny how we often try to avoid that, right? Like, we try to avoid discomfort while at the same time seeking to, like, enhance the platform of others, and it’s like that doesn’t–they can’t go hand-in-hand.
Vilissa: And I do want to say that sometimes, you know, changing things starts from within. I know that, particularly within the disabled community, there has been a lot of shake-ups due to, you know, the calling out of the racism that’s in the disabled community when it comes to leadership, the kind of Good Ol’ Boys club that really, you know, reigns true since, you know, when people think about disability, you know, what usually comes to mind is a white face, usually a white male face, and a lot of the leadership are white disabled men who have a lot of racist, sexist views, who resist the change that is needed, and I think there has been this surgance [sp] of disabled people of color to be able to ramp their voice, you know, in a sense, to talk about the issues that matter to them to bring forth a more diverse understanding of disability history that is not just white faces or white experiences. So I think that part of what I have experienced and others who do this activism work, you know, is shaking the table within to really get the change that you want outside, you know, of your own sphere.
Zach: Let me ask this, and I find this–I find this genuinely interesting because, again, I don’t believe that I considered the perspectives and the experiences of the disabled and disabled people of color. So, like, that entire community. So for able-bodied folks like myself, just people who aren’t conscious of that experience, can you explain to me some of the different ways that unconscious bias, bias and racism, rear its head within the disabled community?
Vilissa: Yes. One way is, you know, like I was saying, you know, who is disabled? You know, not really considering disabled people of color. You know, when we see the telethons and the marathons and, you know, the call for, you know, charities, it’s usually, you know, white faces, and that, you know, visible erasure of representation allows communities of color to not see themselves, when communities of color, particularly black and native communities especially, have high rates of disability. So that erasure alone is very dangerous, you know, when there’s certain racial groups who have a prevalence of disability, and then when you break that down further into the communities of color themselves–you know, I can only speak for the black community. You know, we do have a resistance to, you know, identifying as disabled or calling somebody’s, you know, condition disabled, you know? We have these kind of cutesy words for it. “You know So-and-so?” You know, they may think like this, or, you know, “So-and-so may be a little, you know, quirky,” or anything like that, and, you know, I think that for me, that has really impacted how I look at my black disabled body, you know, as somebody who’s been disabled since birth. I really didn’t identify as disabled until I started doing this work, because I didn’t know that being disabled had its own identity and culture and pride and that there is a community of people that look like me and people that don’t look like me and people who are wheelchair users like myself, people who are short of stature or little people or [inaudible], you know? So that invisibility when it comes to media, when it comes to the work that organizations do, really impacts one’s ability to connect to an identity that’s outside of their race and gender. So I really think that honestly both disabled and non-disabled people, you know, are both heavily disadvantaged due to that disability. I know that, you know, in coming to this space I see a lot of particularly black folks who are disabled, particularly those who have invisible or not apparent disabilities like mental illness, chronic pain. Those are all disabilities, you know? But we don’t call those things that, and it can really create this disconnect in one’s body and mind and what’s going on within one’s body and mind, as well as understanding that being disabled is just as strong of an identity as your gender and your race. So for me, connecting to particularly black disabled women [inaudible] is letting them know that it’s okay to talk about your disability, you know? It’s okay to talk about your mental illness. It’s okay to talk about your chronic pain. It’s okay to talk about the lack of medical assistance that you get because you are, you know, a [triple?] minority. You know, I really think that that type of visibility allows those open conversations, allows those community resource sharing or just tips shared or, you know, just plain support to occur. So for me I really want us to all kind of take a step back and say that “Hey, you know, disabled people are the largest minority group in the world and in the country,” and we all know somebody with a disability, if it’s not us ourselves who are disabled. So being disabled isn’t just some identity that doesn’t reach home in some way, shape, or form. It does, and I think that’s the main disconnect that I see, people not understanding a community that is so vast, so diverse, and it’s one where we do know somebody, and to not change the perception that we have about disabled people and the lives that we’re able to live. So, you know, that’s just kind of the things that I notice, you know, when it comes to non-disabled people, able-bodied people, not understanding things, and what disabled people like myself who do activism work, you know, have to kind of teach you all and also happen to bring you all into the fold for those who are actually disabled who may not at this point or for whatever reasons, usually due to stigma or shame, identify.
Zach: In that you shared about being a triple minority, you talked about identity. As discussions around inclusion and diversity become more and more commonplace today, and more centered in pop culture frankly, the term “intersectionality” is used a lot. So can you talk to me about what intersectionality means for you? And I ask that because you shared that you being disabled is an entire identity to itself, and it is, right? It’s a part of who you are. It shapes how you navigate and move around this world, how you see the world. At the same time, you are a woman. At the same time, you are a black woman. So I’m curious to know, how do you navigate the intersection of those–and of course those are just three. Certainly you have various other ways that you identify yourself. However, how do you navigate the various points of intersection for yourself?
Vilissa: Well, I think that–you know, when I talk about intersectionality, I think what’s so critical is that people cannot separate my identities because I won’t let them. You know, being black is just as important to me as being a woman, as being disabled. You cannot look at me and just simply divide me into three different parts, you know? Each of my identities has interwoven into this, to me, beautiful fabric of my being, and the world reacts to me, you know, in the ways in which my identities present themselves, you know? Some people may not care that I’m black, but because I’m a woman that’s a problem. Some people may not care that I’m a woman, but because I’m a wheelchair user that makes them uncomfortable. Some people may not care that I’m a wheelchair user, but because I’m black, that’s the biggest issue. So when I go out into the world, I don’t know at times which of these identities people are reacting to, or sometimes I can tell. It depends on, you know, if they’re very open about what may make them uncomfortable or what they’re, you know, I guess quote-unquote offended by, you know? By my mere existence. So for me, the world, you know, looks at me and judges me on those three primary identities that I have, and they make assumptions about my capabilities, my intellect, my social status, my educational status, you know? Just everything about me, and the one thing I always say about assumptions is, you know, the word assumption has, you know, A-S-S at the beginning of it, so you can make yourself look like an–you know, an unintentional [bleep] by making assumptions. So, you know, I really think that those assumptions have really shaped, you know, my experience, and particularly when I learned about the term “intersectionality,” it just really, you know, was like a light-bulb moment. Like, “Oh, my gosh, that makes so much sense,” because when I look at myself in the mirror, I see a black disabled woman, you know? I see–and I’m a Southerner. I’m from South Carolina, so, you know, I understand what it means to be in a small Southern town, you know, to live in a red state, to have the type of history that is attached to the South. As a woman I understand, you know, sexism and the ways that women are paid less and the harassment and the sexual assaults that women go through, you know, with our bodies and our mere existence, and as disabled, you know, we experience all of those things, you know? Disabled women, particularly those with intellectual disabled, have the highest rates of experience sexual violence. So in that example, you know, we have the connection of gender and disability. You know, when it comes to being a person of color, their people have the highest rates of police brutality. Over, you know, half of police brutality rates are conducted on, you know, disabled people, and there’s a portion of those people who have been, you know, either the survivors or victims of police brutality have been disabled people of color. So in that example you have the race and the disability factor. So, you know, just in those type of statistics alone–and I could go on and on about the disparities when it comes to race, gender, and disability–you really cannot separate someone’s experience and the disparities that they may encounter because of who they are.
Zach: Let me ask this. You know, in the work that you do with your Ramp Your Voice! and of course as a professional, as an adult, can you talk to us a little bit about how to effectively support disabled people of color in the workplace?
Vilissa: Mm-hmm. Well, I know that what my particular work journey has been. It’s always unusual, you know, when it comes to how non-disabled people may look at it, but for disabled people it’s not really unusual at all. As I said, I am, you know, as a social worker. When I got my MSW in 2012, I had wanted to look at traditional social work routes, and the one thing I found is that the requirements for social work positions, particularly those that deal with case management, DCS or CPS, you know, et cetera, requires you to either have a vehicle or be able to go out to homes, and as a wheelchair user I know that the majority of homes are not wheelchair-accessible, and as someone who did not have the ability to obtain a car because I was on SSI at the time, you know, that [inaudible] was there as well. So I quickly realized that if I wanted to make a niche for myself within social work I most likely was gonna have to do a non-traditional social work route, and lucky for me, I went from being micro-focused, which dealt with families, individuals, and groups, into a more macro focus, which is activism, community building, so on and so forth, and that’s what kind of got me into writing and got me into Ramp Your Voice! So for me, many disabled people are like myself where we have these barriers. We have these systemic barriers when it comes to the job requirements. Like I mentioned, you know, being a wheelchair user, and you also have systemic barriers when it comes to government agencies as well. You know, with being on SSI, I knew that I would have to have a job that gave me insurance, because my SSI and my health care–because Medicaid–were connected. So if I was to lose the SSI, that means that I would lose the Medicaid.
Zach: So let me ask this. What is–for those who don’t know, and myself included, what is SSI?
Vilissa: SSI is basically social security. There’s two types of social security. SSI is what those who have not yet put into the system get, basically those like myself who are born with disabilities. Basically, like, younger kids whose parents make within the I guess income requirements. I was able to get them enrolled on it. And then there’s SSDI, so those of us that work, we put into the SSDI system. So for me, I was on the SSI system because I hadn’t put into the system yet. So for me, while I was building my brand, I was still looking for, you know, different types of employment. Luckily I lived at home with my grandmother at the time, and, you know, I was able to stay with her. You know, I had lived with her my whole life, so I was able to stay with her and build up this brand, and then when she passed at the end of 2015, I knew that I would have to get some type of employment. So I, you know, was able to get a job by the end of 2016, and that allowed me to get off of social security, ’cause I had health insurance. You know, that’s the unique situation that disabled people endure. These are the systemic barriers. Now, some disabled people are not able to get off, particularly Medicaid, because they have comprehensive health care needs, and private insurance would not pay for some of those extensive health care needs that they have, like having a personal care assistant, someone coming to their home, helping them with their activities or daily living like dressing, bathing, so on and so forth, or they may need certain equipment, you know, that private insurance may not cover because it’s, you know, very expensive. So some disabled people are not able to get off [inaudible] at all, and they have to be very mindful of how much income they may have to take in, how that can affect it, either their Medicaid and/or social security, particularly if they’re both connected, and what does that look like. So this puts disabled people in the [inaudible] of property, because I know that when I was on social security I was getting several hundred and 30 something dollars a month, which is nothing, you know? To live off.
Zach: Right. No, absolutely.
Vilissa: Yeah, and that’s, like, a month. So, you know, just think about that. For some people, that’s their rent, you know? That’s their rent payment.
Zach: And that’s some cheap rent too.
Vilissa: Exactly. You know, so I think that what non-disabled people really don’t realize is that when it comes to employment, disabled people have a lot to consider, and in some cases a lot to lose. That could put their livelihoods, and at times their lives, on the line. So when it comes to employment, you do have to be very strategic about what kind of jobs you take, what kind of money you take. If you can take money, what does that look like? And so on and so forth. I know that for me, I was willing to do some things for free while on social security because I knew the consequences of taking money while on social security, and that was my main source of income. And that’s a lot to take into consideration, a lot, and when it comes to disabled people of color, we have the highest rates of unemployment within the disabled community. Disabled black folks have the highest rates of unemployment in the community. So, you know, it’s not only us having these hoops to go through, but also people not being willing to hire us when it comes to looking for employment.
Zach: So let’s get back on Ramp Your Voice! a little bit. I love the writings and the photos and the resources. Where can people learn more about Ramp Your Voice!, and what all do you have going on in 2019?
Vilissa: Well, Ramp Your Voice! is gonna be doing some very collaborative work. Right now I have a speaking agent, where I will be doing a lot of speaking gigs, signing up for universities. So if anybody wants me to come speak, you can sign me up for that. Reach out to me and I can connect you with my agent. And that has been a great experience that just occurred this year, to be able to connect with somebody who understands the vision that I have of my work and my voice and what I want to do with that through more writing. I’m in the process right now of working on my children’s book, which is a picture book. This has been kind of like my baby for a very long time, and I’m now in the position to work on it the way that I desire to and bring it to life. Right now I don’t have a publisher for that, but definitely looking for one. Right now I’m also looking to writing. I love writing about race, gender, and disability, to intersectionality and different things like, you know, pop media, media representation, health care, social work. So right now I’m just continuing to build the brand, continuing to talk about the experiences from a black disabled woman’s perspective, and just really continuing to, you know, cause trouble. Like, one of the things I do enjoy doing is educating, you know, non-disabled folk, particularly those who are professionals in the medical field, the [inaudible] professions field like myself with social workers, therapists, really understanding disability outside of the medical model, which is basically, you know, talking about disability from a diagnosis standpoint as well as the [first-person?] language. We’re saying “people with disabilities” instead of the identity-first language, which is disabled people, disabled [inaudible], disabled women, and really getting into the social model of understanding disability, which is more about, you know, disability being a, you know, identity, a culture, a community. So that’s kind of what I offer for professionals who really want to ensure that if they’re trying to engage with disabled people through their work, maybe through recruiting, you know, for their hiring practices, you know, whatever that they’re interested in, make sure that they understand the language, because every community has its particular language that you need to know to be able to better relate and engage with those community members so you don’t be out of date and, at times, unintentionally offensive by using outdated terms. So those are the things that I offer that I’m really looking forward to doing more of in 2019, as well as a couple other projects that I can’t really say just yet, but just really, you know, expanding the brand, particularly since there’s so many great disabled voices out there who are doing incredible work, you know, just making sure that what I’m doing is always fresh and always being welcome to reaching new audiences, reaching new professions and new worlds that, you know, disabled people live in, you know? Just because somebody doesn’t self-identify as disabled doesn’t mean that disabled people aren’t in your organization, aren’t in your community.
Zach: I appreciate you educating me. I’m sure many of our listeners–and I’m curious though, before we get out of here, do you have any parting words? Any shout-outs?
Vilissa: Well, I just–you know, I just really want to thank you for allowing me to be on here. Just know that disabled people are here, and we are not going anywhere, and if you don’t know a disabled person, you need to step your game up and really–particularly if you are a professional–see the ways in which your organization, your body of work, is being exclusive–you know, excluding disabled people, and how you can be more inclusive of disabled people, and ensuring that if you’re going to include disabled people that they represent vast, you know, gender, race, you know, sexual orientation, you know, identities, because we need more disabled people of color, disabled people of color who are LGBT, you know, in those types of spaces.
Zach: Vilissa, I have to thank you for being on the show today. Thank you so much, Vilissa. We look forward to having you back on the show. We’ll talk to you soon.
Vilissa: Thank you.
Zach: Peace. And we’re back.
Ade: That was an amazing interview. Beyond, I think, inspiring, which I don’t think is the term that I really want to use there, but pardon my lack of or access to language at this point. I think Vilissa’s story is–it’s a call to action, right? It is–and I don’t know if everyone has gotten the opportunity to go to Ramp Your Voice! and just take a look around, but there’s actually an anthology–I was struggling with that for a second there. There’s an anthology on Ramp Your Voice! where Vilissa actually did an amazing job at collecting a black disabled woman syllabus, and I did some work and went through and read some of the articles that I hadn’t had access to or read before, and it’s amazing. It is a body of work that I think everyone should read, not just because it gives you a really–if you can hear something crunching in the background, that’s my dog Benjamin. He wanted to be featured on the–on the podcast today, so he has some thoughts.
Zach: What’s up, Benji? Yeah, we can definitely hear him. It’s all good.
Ade: Yeah. So this list has important thoughts. Like, The Stigma of Being Black and Mentally Ill, Complexities and Messiness: Race, Gender, Disability and the Carceral Mind, which was an incredibly, incredibly important read. “How I Dragged Myself Out of the Abyss That Is Depression Without A Prescription,” Disabled Black People. Just very, very important works and in many, many different formats. So you have music, audio, video, poetry and fiction, books, articles. I say all that to say that there is a treasure trove of really important and interesting work, so I encourage everyone and will include the link to the syllabus, but I encourage everyone to take a look at this work. I don’t even remember where I got started with singing Vilissa’s praises, but yeah, amazing interview.
Zach: No, super dope, and I definitely appreciate Vilissa joining the podcast. We’ll definitely make sure to have all of her information in the show notes. JJ, give me some of them air horns for Vilissa. Go ahead, give ’em to me. Put ’em in here.[air horns] Aye. Thank you, thank you. Part of me wants to let off some of them blop-blops, Ade, but, you know, we’re a professional podcast.
Ade: Again, all I have to say is that celebratory gunshots are absolutely situationally appropriate.
Zach: Man, my goodness. One day I’ma have–one day I’ma have the CEO of my current job, he’s gonna be on the podcast, and we’re gonna let them blop-blops go. Watch. That might be the same podcast we talk about respectability politics too, just to make some of y’all real mad.
Ade: I am here for all of that action, all of it.
Zach: I’m here for it. Man, so I’m definitely excited. So I have not read any of the pieces on here. I clicked the anthology, and I see–
Zach: I haven’t. I haven’t read the pieces on here. I haven’t, no.
Ade: Even the black feminism or the womanism category?
Zach: No. I’m being honest.
Ade: Oh, you have some homework.
Zach: Oh, no. I have mad homework. I have mad homework. So I’m looking at the anthology. The anthology is requesting content, right? It’s requesting content, but then I see right here to your point, there’s a bunch of stuff on here. The Harriet Tubman Casting Cripping Up Issue, Aunt Vi, #QueenSugar, Black Women, & Our Disabled Bodies: Why We’re Still Whole, Luke Cage: The Black Disabled Superhero We Need, If I Die In Police Custody. I mean, Why Black History Matters. There’s great content here, and really there’s no reason for y’all not to check this out, just like there’s no reason for me not to check it out further. Amen. Okay.
Zach: Okay. Okay, okay. So let’s go ahead and get into these Favorite Things. Ade, why don’t you go ahead and go first?
Ade: Oh, I just want to say one last thing before we move on. I think that it is incredibly important as we amplify the voices of people of color who are disabled, particularly black people, particularly black women who are disabled, I think it’s important that we contextualize black history and the black experience within this paradigm, and I had to sit back and think through, for example, Harriet Tubman, who we know historically had seizures. She was injured over the course of her enslavement and had to deal with severe seizures for the rest of her life, which brought on these visions that she attributed to a religious–like, a sacred experience, but I think of how important it is to 1. contextualize these experiences and 2. fully give Harriet Tubman her due, right? Because if we lose the pieces that really and truly make up who she is, we are not truly honoring her, right? And I think that if we acknowledge that, you know, Harriet Tubman was a black woman, an enslaved woman, a disabled woman, in a time that made no space for any parts of her, I think we really and truly start to understand and give honor to who she was as opposed to having honestly a very surface-level understanding of who she was and magnifying her in a shallow way, I would say. So yeah, Harriet Tubman. Amazing woman. Disabled woman. I cannot sing her praises enough obviously. I mean, duh. Harriet Tubman. But yeah, it’s so important that we talk about these things, because it’s so easy to gloss over the fullness of who a person was.
Zach: Okay. So with that being said, now we’re ready for our Favorite Things. Ade, what you got going on? What’s your Favorite Thing right now?
Ade: So my one Favorite Thing right now is this guy who demanded cuddles and rubs, so he is over here face all in my lap while I try to record. I promise you, he is just big ol’ face in my lap. His favorite thing–his favorite thing to do is to either jump right on top of my stomach, all 50 pounds of him, when I’m laying in bed and minding my own black business, or he likes to, when I’m sitting on the couch, literally hop on the couch and put his butt in my face. It’s, like, his favorite thing.
Zach: This sounds abu–oh, this is a dog. This is Benji.
Ade: Yes, yes. There isn’t a random man running around in my life.
Zach: I was like, “Wait, why is he–he’s a grown man and he weighs 50 pounds and he’s jumping on your stomach? What?”
Ade: I would have so, so many more problems if that were in fact the case.
Zach: That is crazy. I was like, “Wait, this is too much going on.” Okay, so Benji is your Favorite Thing right now?
Ade: Oh, and my other Favorite Thing is the CodeNewbie podcast. I stopped listening for a little while because–
Zach: What’s the name? Say it again?
Ade: The CodeNewbie podcast.
Zach: Okay, what’s that? What’s the CodeNewbie podcast?
Ade: It is a podcast dedicated to educating folks like me who are either transitioning into tech or even, like, if you’re a CS student in college or whatever it may be, a new grad of either an undergraduate, a master’s student, if you were graduating from a boot camp, all of it. It just educates an entire community of learners, and I love it so much. It’s, you know, after Living Corporate, my favorite podcast to listen to.
Zach: Aye. Okay, that’s what’s up. First of all, shout-out to Benji and to all the dogs out there. Woof woof.
Ade: Not woof woof. Did you just–okay, DMX.
Zach: No, DMX would be like–I can’t even do it. I can’t even do it now ’cause you just put me on the spot. [tries] You know what I’m saying? Like, that would be DMX.
Ade: Okay, Lil’ DMX.
Zach: Yes. ZMX, what’s up? So also, you know, we need to start doing our shout-outs, so this reminds me – shout-out to the college-aged people who listen to our podcast, shout-out to the Buckys, A.K.A. the allies, A.K.A. the Winter Soldiers out there.
Ade: Oh, my God.
Zach: Shout-out to the Wakandans, A.K.A. my true Africans. Shout-out to my Jamaican brethren, who allow us to get these pew-pew-pews off every episode. Thank y’all for the encouragement.
Ade: Honestly, I think it’s [tolerated?] at this point, but shout-out to y’all anyway.
Zach: Shout-out to y’all. Shout-out to the corporate gangstas. Shout-out to Wall Street. Shout-out to the folks that don’t have nothing to do, they just listen to podcasts all day. Shout-out to y’all.
Ade: Shout-outs to those of you who have, in the last 3 days or so, deployed a “per my last email.” I see you. I recognize your struggle, and go ahead and CC HR if necessary, [beloveds?]. It’s okay
Zach: Amen. Shout-out to those who drink water every day. Shout-out to y’all.
Ade: And if you are listening with us right now, feel free to reach over to a glass of water or a water bottle of some sort and take a sip.
Zach: Shout-out to my people–shout-out to all of my black people and all of my white people, A.K.A. all of the people who know they need to wear lotion and all of those who don’t really wear lotion like that. Shout-out to all of y’all, and then of course shout-out to all of my co-workers and colleagues who listen to the Living Corporate podcast. Shout-out to y’all. Who else?
Ade: You know, it’s funny, because I don’t really tell my co-workers about our podcast just in case I need to shade them on the podcast.
Zach: See? Well, that’s what happens when you’re not–when you don’t live your truth, see? You’ve got to–you need to tell your co-workers about the podcast. [inaudible]–
Ade: So I just need to shade them directly to their faces? Because, I mean, I’m with that energy, it’s just that–
Zach: You should definitely shade people to their faces, just as a principle in life.
Ade: So here’s the thing. I struggle with that, because I would love to shade you in person and to your face and very loudly–well, no, that’s not quite shade, that’s just yelling–however, I also hold the sincere belief that I just work here. It is not my job to educate you about your silliness. So I don’t know. There’s, like, a spectrum of behavior, and I don’t know how willing I am to invest time in raising adults. So I’m gonna continue struggling with that.
Zach: I mean, I feel that. I feel that. See, I genuinely love my job. Like, I’m at a very unique place in my career. I love my job. I have a great relationship with all of–everybody in my practice. Like, I love my team, so, like, shout-out to them. And so I have no issue with letting people know that I have a podcast, plus this is a professional podcast. Like, we don’t be talking crazy on here. We haven’t even let any blop-blops–we haven’t even let any blop-blops go.
Ade: I hear you. I love my job as well, although on occasion I do sincerely doubt the judgment of some folks.
Zach: That’s real.
Ade: So I don’t know. I’m gonna struggle with that a little bit longer and let you know how I feel about it and if I’m deploying a–“Here’s a link to my podcast,” you know, in an email all thread.
Zach: It’s a good–it’s also good for your personal brand. I mean, I think–you know, it’s almost been a year since we’ve been out. I feel like it’s about time you let people know you’re on a podcast.
Ade: Very true point.
Zach: You know what I’m saying? We were in the middle of these shout-outs. Oh, right, so Favorite Things. So my Favorite Thing right now has to be Desus and Mero on Showtime, okay? So, you know, there are a few things that give me inspiration and joy at the same time, and Desus and Mero happen to be one of ’em. I love their style. I love their content. It’s super funny, very engaging, and it has a certain level of just comedic timing that I aspire to have. They’re wonderful. So I love their show. This is not a paid promo ad. I don’t even think we have enough juice to get ad space for Desus and Mero.
Ade: No, no, no. Retract that energy right now. Retract it. Retract it.
Zach: Yeah, right. I’m gonna take it back, I’m gonna take it back and add a “yerrrrrp” instead. [laughs]
Ade: That’s how you do it. Yep.
Zach: Yes, but–but no, I really enjoy their content, so shout-out to them. And that really leads me to my question before we get into the wrap-up. Do you think we should have, like, some A.K.A.s on the show? Like, not the sorority. Shout-out to y’all, though. [inaudible].
Ade: I really was about to be like, “Excuse me?”
Zach: No, no, no. Like, A.K.A.s, like, “Zach Nunn, A.K.A. So-and-so, A.K.A. That Guy, A.K.A. Mr. Such-and-such, A.K.A.–”
Ade: A.K.A. ZMX?
Zach: A.K.A. ZMX, A.K.A. “per my last email,” A.K.A. CC Your Boss, CC Your Manager. My wife’s looking at me and saying, “No, don’t do any of that.”
Ade: I–yes, I really was about to be like, “Hm, this could escalate very, very quickly, and the only A.K.A. that I am known for is not work-appropriate,” so I’m just gonna move on.
Zach: [laughs] Yeah, [inaudible] said no.
Ade: I’m standing in my truth. I’m sitting. I’m sitting in my truth.
Zach: My wife took her laptop, moved it off of her lap to her side, and then moved her head from the left to the right to the left again, to the right again, and then back to the left to tell me no. Okay.
Ade: She’s a wise woman.
Zach: She is.
Ade: We have been rambling for so long.
Zach: We have, but, you know, this is actually part of our podcast. You know, people–y’all have been saying that we’re not–you know, sometimes we come across a little too scripted. Look, we’ve been kicking it this episode. If y’all like–if y’all kick it with us–you know, actually, this is the last thing before we go. You know how, like, every podcast and/or, like, artist, group, they have something that they call their fans? Like, Beyonce has the Beyhive, right? Like, Rihanna–BTS has, their fans call themselves “The Army.” Like, should we have–should we have any type of–
Ade: An employee resource group? Sure.
Zach: No, no. What we call our fans. You think we should call them an employee resource group? That’d be super funny. No, they have to give themselves an–you know, something like “our Living Corporaters,” you know what I’m saying? It has to be something where you give them, like, a name. There has to be a name.
Ade: I don’t–
Zach: Right? So, like, I’m pretty sure–
Ade: Let’s think through this. Y’all send us some suggestions.
Zach: We’ve gotta think through it, right? Yeah, y’all send us some suggestions. Like, what do y’all want to be called? Y’all can’t be called “the Living Corporate hive.” That’s mad corny. Can’t be called the LCers, ’cause that’s–again, it’s cheesy. But I don’t know. Like, we should think about something. I don’t know. It’d be funny, like, if we ever had, like, a live podcast and, like, people subscribed in the middle of our podcast, if the noise was [makes noises] “Hi, who just joined?” That would be funny. [laughs]
Ade: All right, it’s past your bedtime.
Zach: It’s time to go. It’s time to go, y’all. All right, thank y’all for listening to the Living Corporate podcast. You can check us out on everything. We’re everywhere. Just Google us, Living Corporate. Check us out on Instagram @LivingCorporate, check us out on Twitter @LivingCorp_Pod. Make sure you check out all of our blogging content, ’cause we have blogs, and we have some new stuff coming. That’ll be coming–fresh announcement, independent announcement coming soon on living-corporate.com, please state the dash, or livingcorporate.co or livingcorporate.org or livingcorporate.net. We have all the livingcorporates except livingcorporate.com. Y’all should know this by now because Australia owns livingcorporate.com. Somebody write a note to Australia. Let them know to stop hating.
Ade: A strongly-worded letter.
Zach: A strongly-worded letter, right? But they’re not even doing the aboriginals right, so they definitely not gonna do us right, huh, Ade?
Ade: I mean, no.
Zach: No, they’re not. Dang, we just put some aboriginal commentary in the end of a Living Corporate podcast episode. But I mean it, y’all need to do right by the aboriginals, and frankly y’all need to do right by us and give us the livingcorporate.com domain. I’m tired of it. We’ve talked about this for a whole 3 or 4 months. Consider this though a strongly-worded note, a message, okay? We do need the domain. I’m terrified to ask how much money it would cost. I have no idea. I have no idea how much money it would cost.
Ade: I–I just–all right. Goodnight, bruh.
Zach: Thank y’all for listening to the Living Corporate podcast. This has been Zach.
Ade: This has been Ade.