Demystifying Disability with Emily Ladau

Hey, Liberare babes. For today’s blog post we’re shaking it up and doing things a bit differently. That’s because we recently had the opportunity to interview first-time author, disabled rights activist, and overall extraordinaire, Emily Ladau. Emily took the time with us to discuss the upcoming release of her new book, Demystifying Disability, a friendly guide to becoming a better ally to the disability community.

Emily discusses everyday disability issues from ableism to etiquette and explores ways in which we can collectively strive to create a more inclusive future for everyone. Whether you’re disabled and looking to become a better activist or an able-bodied person hoping to become a better ally, this book is packed with knowledge and easy-to-achieve actionable steps to get you started. Pre-order your copy today, and check out our interview below.

Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself?

I’d be happy to! I’m a disability rights activist, writer, storyteller, and digital communications consultant. I was born with a physical disability called Larsen syndrome--a rare genetic disorder that affects my joints and muscles--so I use a wheelchair to get around. I love all things turquoise and have an ever-growing collection of peacock-related things. If I had to describe myself as a TV character, I’d say I’m Leslie Knope from Parks and Recreation. Make of that what you will!

I’m sure your own disabled experience played a role in writing this book. But, was there one definitive or “a-ha'' moment that was the catalyst behind what actually got you started?

I’ve always prioritized making the disability experience accessible and meeting people where they are in their learning processes. I don’t say this because I think disabled people exist to be teachable moments, but rather because I recognize that disability remains a taboo, uncomfortable subject for so many of us. Initially, I’d planned to write a different book (still disability-related), but my literary agent helped me focus in on my passion for educating. That passion is what got me started and what keeps me going.

Everything about Demystifying Disability cultivates more inclusivity which is something our society so desperately needs. For those who may not be as aware of what that means and why it’s necessary, can you share its importance and how your book will be a resource going forward?

“Inclusion” is thrown around as a buzzword these days, but we haven’t yet reached a point where there’s full understanding that true inclusivity is about action. All of us, disabled and non-disabled alike, have a role to play in creating a more inclusive world. My hope is that Demystifying Disability will be a resource in many spaces, from social justice movement work, to parenting, to teaching, to human resources--to name just a few. It comes down to this: every issue is a disability issue, and disability cuts across all identities, so we simply can’t ignore it.

I love how you refer to your book as a safe space to learn and not be judged for what you don’t know. It seems as though many don’t understand how to approach someone with a disability nor are they willing to dismantle old beliefs they may have. The not knowing may shy them away from actually putting in the work. What would you tell someone who feels this way?

I wrote Demystifying Disability to provide a starting point for anyone who’s seeking to deepen their knowledge of disability, but might not be sure where to begin. Despite being the world’s largest minority, disabled people and disability issues are still too often seen as niche or irrelevant to broader conversations. And when disability is considered, it’s largely through lenses of charity, pity, tragedy, or fear. We tend to harbor negative emotions toward what we don’t know or understand. I’d ask that people open their minds to understanding disability as a natural part of the human experience.

From ableism to accessibility, there is such valuable insight packed into these pages. What is one message or takeaway you hope people get after reading it?

If there’s one thing I want people to remember, it’s this: if you’ve met one disabled person, you’ve met one disabled person. No disabled person can speak for all of us, and the disability experience is not universal. Demystifying Disability isn’t meant to be the definitive book on disability. It’s meant to spark conversation and further learning.

For all the 90’s kids reading this, I have to ask… what was your experience on Sesame Street like?! I think I actually said aloud how cool you are as I read that.

Haha! The fact that I was on Sesame Street is definitely a fun thing to share during getting-to-know-you games. It was an incredible experience, one that I believe was a springboard to my career in disability-related work. The best part was definitely hanging out with Big Bird, Elmo, and Oscar the Grouch.

And, just for fun, if you could have brunch with 2 disabled activists, who would they be and why?

Ooh, this is a fun question, especially because brunch is my favorite meal. Unfortunately, both activists have passed away, but I’d love to share a meal with Bradley Lomax and Kitty Cone, who were both integral to the 504 Sit-in, a powerful disability rights protest (that you can read about in my book!).