What’s Up WID: Disability Representation in the Media Transcripts

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Ashley Inkumsah:

Hello everyone, and welcome back to What’s Up WID, the World Institute on Disability’s podcast, where we discuss what’s up in the disability community with activists and advocates across the globe. If you’re new here, I’m your host Ashley Inkumsah. 

    Last week, I had an incredible conversation with the amazing Maryangel Garcia-Ramos. Maryangel is a Mexican disability activist who is the founder of the nonprofit Mexican Women With Disabilities, also known as Mujeres Mexicanas con Discapacidad. She represented Mexico at the United Nations convention on the rights of persons with disabilities in 2017. She’s really just an all around amazing, intelligent, trailblazer of a woman. 

    Maryangel and I spoke about disability representation in the media and really the lack of authentic, nuanced representation that we’ve become accustomed to. Today’s episode is definitely, without a doubt, one that I know that you’ll enjoy.

Ashley Inkumsah:

I’m so happy to have you as a guest today, to chat a little bit about disability representation in the media, a subject that I know that you’ve been super vocal about in the past. My first question for all of our guests is always, how are you, how are you feeling?

Maryangel Garcia-Ramos:

Well, thank you so much, Ashley, for having me on the show. I’m really excited to be able to speak about these really important issues that we see globally. It doesn’t matter where we are in the world, as persons with disabilities or activists for disability, we have basically the same, well, similar inputs, which are really interesting to see. 

    I’m doing great. We’re here in Mexico. I’m Mexican. I live in Mexico. It’s very hot, so it’s been really intense, all of these weather changes. A lot of work over here, but I think I’m in good spirits. Also, the stress, the overall world stress, is kind of reducing a little bit, with everything that has to do with the pandemic. Every day, there’s a little bit more a feeling of getting there, right?

Ashley Inkumsah:

Exactly. 

Maryangel Garcia-Ramos:

It’s very different for countries like the United States, or countries in development like mine or others. We’re still not there, but every day is a little bit more of hope. We see a little bit more of hope, so that’s good. I’m doing great. I’m happy to be here, so thank you. 

Ashley Inkumsah:

Well, I’m so happy to have you. I really am. So I know that a couple years ago, at a panel about women in television, where I know the president of Paramount and there were also executives from Warner Bros. who attended that panel as well, you called out those panelists for not including people with disabilities on their TV shows. I love so much that you did that. Why did you think, and why do you still think, that disability representation in TV, film, and in the media tends to be so lacking?

Maryangel Garcia-Ramos:

I think for a really long time, for a lot of years, we’ve been carrying this narrative, this really negative narrative around disability, for years, for example, and we don’t talk about it that much. Kind of like in our ableist systems, we just kind of accept it and normalize it.

    If we go back, a little bit of history. If we go back to maybe World War II, where Hitler, during the Holocaust, which is one of the most horrible moments in the history of mankind, when Hitler and his team killed a lot of people, especially Jewish people. There was a big genocide around people with disabilities. 145,000 disabled people were killed because they were not good enough. 

    There’s always this narrative around we’re these broken beings, not good enough. It comes to the fact that, when they talk about us, in government, in policy, there’s always been this negative narrative around us. Or this completely opposite, inspirational porn, we’re just here to inspire those who have all their abilities, and that’s all the use that we have in the world, that our existence is this kind of disastrous thing. 

    Since we have those narratives, it’s really hard to understand that … We have those narratives, and also we lack representation in different areas of society because of the ableist systems that we have. 

    For example, here in Mexico, people with disabilities, their average year that they can study is between sixth grade and seventh grade. 22% of people with disabilities in Mexico cannot read or write, for example. Most people with disabilities in Mexico or Latin America live in poverty. The system doesn’t allow us to be a part of that, because it’s not accessible, but also because we’re not part of the design and the decision-making on that, on companies or on government. It’s the vicious cycle, right? Which is first, the chicken, the hen-

Ashley Inkumsah:

The chicken or the egg. Right, exactly. 

Maryangel Garcia-Ramos:

It’s this vicious cycle. When it comes to content, this is the time that, for the very first time in a long time, in the history of mankind, we have access to creating our own content, telling our own stories. 

    The thing is, we haven’t been able to tell our own stories. When they’ve talked about us, we haven’t been part of that design or that conversation. They’ve told our stories without us. And when we see stories about people with disabilities told on TV, or told on movies, they’re portrayed by people who don’t have a disability. Which are amazing actors. That’s not the issue here. But it’s about claiming or clapping for people who don’t have disabilities, to act like someone who has a disability, seeing how amazing and admiring their life is, but in real life they don’t care about us. 

    It’s something that hasn’t been seen as sexy, or as something that could sell, or something that people could be interested in, because of these narratives. What I think, to this day, is that there is a lot of amazing stories that come from people with disabilities, especially women, and I would say non-binary people with disabilities. There are these amazing stories, regarding to women, that we haven’t told, who haven’t told their own stories. The little stories that we see around Netflix, they’re about men with disabilities, or white people with disabilities, mostly. 

    It’s about seeing that there’s this broad part of the population that we haven’t explored their stories. What the studios need is stories. They need new stories. They need to get to more people. They need to tell stories that we haven’t told before. It’s something that they haven’t realized, most of them. Also, their presentation, in not only acting, which is very important, but it’s about acting, it’s about writing the stories. Not necessarily stories with disabilities, but from the perspective of person with disabilities, for example. 

    We talk about media and news outlets, and the way they speak about us, it’s still very existentialist, very inspirational porn, talking still about all of these stereotypes that are told about us. When it comes to media, we don’t tell the really hard stories. We’re not telling that, in COVID, people of color, people with disabilities, they had it the worst when it come to COVID. We did not talk about this. In Latin America, in Mexico, we’re not even talking about how people with disabilities are not part of the people who should get the vaccines first. It never happened, and it’s still not happening. 

    Those are the things that, when it comes to injustices, we don’t even raise our hands on those stories. I think we need to be more present, and we need to keep on raising our voices, as part of the disabled community, to be able to tell those stories by our own perspectives. 

Ashley Inkumsah:

Absolutely, yeah. You touched on so many amazing things. The first thing is the idea of … Specifically, I don’t know if you’re familiar or you’ve heard about this story. I think it happened maybe last year. There is a, I believe she’s an Australian singer. Her name is Sia. She made this movie about autism. She said that she was going to cast an autistic child as the lead, but she said that she couldn’t because the set didn’t work for the child. So she ended up casting a non-disabled person. It’s just like, “Why are you not making the set accessible for someone who is autistic, versus …” I just don’t understand that. 

Maryangel Garcia-Ramos:

Why would you want to tell a story about someone who is autistic, without contemplating what it would require to tell a story about someone who is autistic? It doesn’t make any sense. 

Ashley Inkumsah:

Yeah. 

Maryangel Garcia-Ramos:

Yeah, it’s about that. It’s exactly that. It’s about we want to go and tell the stories about people with disabilities, which are very inspiring and it’s amazing and people should hear about this, but you don’t involve them in the process. Then why would you be telling this story? What’s the point?

Ashley Inkumsah:

They’re not involving them because maybe it’s uncomfortable for them. 

Maryangel Garcia-Ramos:

Of course. 

Ashley Inkumsah:

Instead of making the set comfortable for the person with disabilities, it’s just like, “Okay, we’re just not going to include them at all, then.”

Maryangel Garcia-Ramos:

Yeah, because it’s more complicated. Actually, she said it that way. “It’s uncomfortable. It’s more complicated.” Since it was more complicated, that’s why I decided to just cast this girl.” Also, her performance … Again, there’s nothing against actors without disabilities. Maddie, she’s an amazing dancer, and she was in her videos and everything. But the portrayal of the person, seeing the perspective of people with autism, seeing the portrayal of what they saw in the movie, they were like, “Did they even consult with people who are part of this spectrum, the experiences and everything around that?” 

    It’s not necessarily total fault on her performance, but it’s about the whole system around that. From the moment they say yes to the movie, from the moment it’s who is being … Not a gatekeeper per se, but who is actually making sure that this is something that represents what they want to represent? 

    Also, because the narrative was she wanted to tell the story about these people. What she wanted was, her main audience or target, was who? People without disabilities? Or was it people with disabilities? If it was, then it makes no sense. Wouldn’t you want the project to be successful? Of course you would. It just makes no sense, and it happens a lot. We see it a lot in everything, right?

Ashley Inkumsah:

Absolutely, yeah. I don’t think right now there’s a single television show, a single show on television where there is an actual actor with disabilities who’s playing a person with disabilities. Not that I’m aware of. Not in the mainstream, anyways, currently. 

Maryangel Garcia-Ramos:

I’ve seen it, but I think it was a show … I’m not sure if it got canceled. It was called Speechless. It was this guy who couldn’t speak, he had a physical disability. The mom on the show was Minnie Driver. It was an amazing story, and he actually couldn’t speak. He was in an electrical chair, et cetera. 

    Other shows like Special, he has autism, but the actor actually doesn’t. There’s another one on Netflix, that it’s called … No, it wasn’t Special. I’m sorry, I’m mixing it. Special is the one about a guy who has cerebral palsy who’s also gay. That story, but it’s one of the first stories that’s written about his experience, as being a gay guy and also having cerebral palsy and his experiences through that. It’s funny, but it’s the only one. 

    There’s a study that they did in the United States about content. I don’t have the number in my hand right now, but it’s I believe a super tiny percentage of people with disabilities are involved in the writing, in the production. Right?

Ashley Inkumsah:

Yep. That was my next point, that people with disabilities need to be involved not only as actors but in the writing, in the production, directing, as consultants. That is so, so important, all facets of the content being created, for sure. 

Maryangel Garcia-Ramos:

Yeah, making sure that nothing about us is without us from the United Nations about disabilities. It happens, of course. They cannot tell us a story about us without us. It makes no sense. Because what will happen? What Sia did, that’s what will happen. It’s not that … It wasn’t coming from a bad place. It’s just that it doesn’t work. It doesn’t portray the reality of it, which was the initial goal. If you wanted to say, “I’m going to portray something that’s not real and it has nothing to do, but it’s something super artistic and weird.” People would be like, “okay.” But if the narrative was, “I want to portray the reality of how they live and the experience …” Then it doesn’t. 

    It has to do with the decision-making from the very first place. The studio, someone who says yes, who’s the gatekeeper to say, “This show goes. We’re going to invest in the show. We’re going to spend our money on this show.” And then fail? Nobody wants that. Everybody wants the return on the investment, because it’s a business in the end. How do you make sure that this actually works, that it actually gets the broader audience’s understanding. 

    At the same time, they’re very responsible for this transformation of the negative narrative around disability. In Mexico, we have it, and we see it a lot in telenovelas. If you’ve ever seen a telenovela in Mexico or Latin America, telenovelas are these really big pop culture icons in our lives. Every time, they still talk about disability, it would be a drama if we saw it in the US, but in Mexico, it goes like, “Eh.” You know? 

    The other day, like four months ago, still in the midst of the pandemic, there was this seen on a telenovela, at night, primetime. This guy, he’s a very big villain, super big villain. He did the most horrible things to his family and everybody, the worst thing you’ve ever seen, super dramatic. At the end, the ending is that he has an accident and he’s not able to walk. He’s not able to walk or move his arms, can barely speak. He’s in a wheelchair, and he’s in jail. Then somebody says something around, “He got what he deserved.” 

Ashley Inkumsah:

Wow. 

Maryangel Garcia-Ramos:

We saw this on the main schedule, where everybody … It’s still a thing. A lot of people still watch TV, cable TV or open TV, and they see telenovelas. It’s a big thing here. I actually taped that, and I said, “So what you’re telling me is that the worst thing that could happen, to the worst person that you’ve known on this story, what’s the worst thing that could happen? It’s not jail. It’s not paying for his crimes. No. It’s being disabled. It’s not being able to walk. So what you’re telling me is that people who already have those disabilities, it’s like it’s a curse. You deserved it. It’s the worst thing that could happen to you.”

    If we still keep pushing those narratives … I asked, and we touched base with the studios that produced it. We were like, “So clearly there was no one, when they were writing this, who was like, ‘Excuse me. Is this okay?'” Because there was no presentation around that. It doesn’t necessarily have to be. It would be amazing if there would be more people with disabilities as consultants, because there is talent. They can consult not only on disability issues but on other issues, from their very own unique perspective. It’s not the same as what a deaf person will tell you, than someone who has a physical disability, or someone who has a physical disability that is part of the Black community, or people of color, or part of the Indigenous community, big Indigenous communities that are here in Mexico. You never know. 

    I think it’s more of a, ‘How is it that they don’t understand, to this day, that there are some things that, in the decision-making sessions, that they’re sitting there, someone would raise their hand, voice, and said, ‘Um, I think this is not okay?'” 30 years ago because we didn’t know this and we didn’t question much, but to this day? 2020? No. We cannot say that. No. 

    Yeah, he could be in a wheelchair on the story. Yeah, it could. But the narrative around that, saying he got what he deserved, these are the things that keep happening. It’s so normalizing our ableist systems and our ableist narratives that we don’t see, unless you’re part of the disability community, probably. Because then people won’t see it, and we need to keep pushing this. 

Ashley Inkumsah:

Yep, exactly. I think there’s a lot of people who would make the argument and say, ‘Oh, it’s just a TV show. What’s the big deal?” It is a big deal because the media has such a profound effect the way that we view the world, nature versus nurture, right? The way that we see things on TV and films, the music that we listen to, it really affects our perceptions, especially if you don’t belong to that group. Like you said, if that’s not your lived experience of having a disability, then of course that’s going to be your perception, that he got what he deserved. It’s terrible. 

Maryangel Garcia-Ramos:

Completely. I don’t think content is innocent, at all. The other day somebody was telling me on Twitter … Twitter can be a really dark place. They were telling me, “How is it that people now complain about everything? We cannot say anything, because everybody would get offended by everything.” Over here, they call it the crystal dinner.

Ashley Inkumsah:

Here there’s cancel culture. 

Maryangel Garcia-Ramos:

Exactly. Yeah, it develops into that. 

Ashley Inkumsah:

It’s the buzzword. 

Maryangel Garcia-Ramos:

Everybody can get canceled for something they said 30 years ago. We’re all deconstructing ourselves, and we’re not the same person that we were 30 years ago. Which is true. I understand that. But they were saying, “We cannot say anything.” Inclusive language over here, which is a very big deal because in Spanish we don’t have neutral language like it is in English. We have it as masculine or feminine. We don’t have a neutral. So it’s been a very big discussion around Spanish, around the world. 

    So all these things. People complain a lot about that. They were telling me, “It’s so hard. It’s so hard. We cannot say anything. All the time I’m tip-toeing on everything because we cannot … There’s nothing I say that it’s not going to offend someone. I think we’re very weak now, and we used to be stronger and more resilient back then.” 

    I kept thinking. In my own perspective, yeah, sometimes people complain about things that I’m like, “Really? Also, yes. But at the same time, I understand.” To me, it’s not that we were more resilient back then and now we’re not. The thing is, now we have more access to content. You were talking about content. That’s why. Because this is the very first time we have access to content, seeing it, creating it, talking about it, that we didn’t have back when we didn’t have … Not only internet, but these platforms that allow you do so.

Ashley Inkumsah:

Social media. 

Maryangel Garcia-Ramos:

Twitter, whatever you want, right?

Ashley Inkumsah:

Yep. 

Maryangel Garcia-Ramos:

To me, it’s just like, “No, I think people are questioning themselves more than we used to in the past.” Our parents, for example, the generation of our parents, obviously it depends on culture as well, they didn’t question their … My grandma for example. My mom would never question my grandma. “This is what you do.” “Yes, Mom. This is what I will do.” Because that’s how they were told. And machismo, or everything that has to do with gender, and gender roles, we didn’t question those things. 

    A lot of people came, paving the way for us today, in the disabled community, in the LGBT community, to help us question a lot of things. This is a moment where we’re questioning things. I don’t think we’re weaker. I think this time we have access to different perspectives, to make our own perspective. 

    It can be very dangerous as well, because you understand and you deconstruct yourself, and we can be better than we were 30 years ago, when we used to call someone a name or a particular word. To this day, you’re like, “Okay, I learned from it.” That’s why cancel culture is very dangerous, because we’re all evolving. That’s where it comes from. 

    At the same time, it’s about understanding that, with that as well, we are opening the gate, of course, to more speeches that come from hate, or from racism, or ableism, because of the access we have to information. It could be fake information, as well. I think it’s something that we need to generalize more. We tend to be very … For example, people are sharing articles that they don’t read, just because they look a certain way. Now Twitter has to tell us, “Do you want to read it first?” You’ll be like, “Yeah, it’s obvious.” But no, it’s not obvious for many people. “Are you sure you want to share this? Just read it first.” 

    I don’t think content is innocent. I think we’re very exposed to a lot of opinions, from podcasts, from everywhere you look there’s information. You get on Twitter, you’re going to be like … There are really good days, and there could be very dark moments, where you’re like, “Why is everyone complaining? Why is everyone so mad? Why is this so dense?” It’s understanding. It’s understanding that we’re all vulnerable to this. Like you said, there is a big responsibility in content and in media, and the way that we tell stories. Right?

Ashley Inkumsah:

Absolutely, yeah. I think, on the subject of this cancel culture debate, society is progressing and that’s a good thing. It’s a good thing that we’re getting to a point where we’re calling out racism and ableism, homophobia, transphobia. It’s a good thing. I think we need to embrace that, instead of wanting to go back to the past. You can’t turn the page without reading the page, you know? 

Maryangel Garcia-Ramos:

Absolutely. 

Ashley Inkumsah:

That’s really important, absolutely. Yeah. You touched on this already, the idea that there’s so many stereotypes that we see, when we see disabled characters in media. Whether they’re inspirational or they’re villains or they’re succeeding despite their disabilities. Why is it so important that we see accurate, nuanced displays of disability in Hollywood or in the media?

Maryangel Garcia-Ramos:

You know what I think? I think sometimes when we talk about diversity and inclusion, we talk about boxes. We talk about disability. We talk about LGBT. We talk about women. We talk about Black people. Whatever that means, because in the end it’s like, “There is no one single story about anyone in these particular boxes.” I think it’s important to understand that there is no one single story about disability. There’s a lot of different stories and a lot of different perspectives, and it’s important to tell it how it is. 

    It will be people with disabilities that are really proud of their disability. They will be proud of the community that’s around it. They don’t even consider, for example, being deaf a disability. It’s part of a culture, for example. There’s some deaf people who consider it that way, and it’s valid. It’s a very valid story, and it’s a very valid perspective. But if there’s someone who’s not okay with their disability and one day they want to walk again, or they want to see again, it’s a process, a very particular process, that they’re living through because of the ableist systems that they are, but it’s still a valid story. 

    So I think it’s very imp;ortant to make these stories come from the people who are living it. That way, I think it would be easier to define what is a story and what is a stereotype. Stereotype stories are mostly designed or created to create a feeling. I want to create a feeling, so that you … We’re usually used as props. We’re always the sidekick. We’re never the protagonists of our own stories. 

    These are the very first times that we’ve been seeing disabled women on the covers of beauty magazines. We were never considered beautiful. A lot of issues that we’ve never been considered beautiful because we’re these broken beings, right? Since I can’t walk, since I can’t see, since I cannot hear, I would not deserve to be called beautiful. I would not deserve to be called powerful. I would not deserve to … The first time that we’re seeing this, it’s just like, “Okay, this is a story. It’s not all of the stories, but it’s a story.” It’s important to see ourselves. 

    When I was young, I wish that I could have seen a Barbie in a wheelchair. Now I’m seeing it, but I’m older. I’m like, “Amazing. This is amazing. We can be whatever we want to be, not despite our disability but with our disability.” 

Ashley Inkumsah:

Absolutely. 

Maryangel Garcia-Ramos:

If we keep on talking about this narratives that say you don’t let your disability define you, or somebody told me that one day, “It’s amazing that you don’t let your disability define you.” I get where they’re coming from. They’re trying to tell you, “You don’t let the limitations of the world or your own ableist systems stop you from doing what you want to do in the world.” I get it, and it’s a beautiful thought. But in the end, it’s a lie. Because disability does define, not my value, because I’m worth just the same as any other person, walking or not walking we all have the same world. It’s about human dignity and about our human rights. 

    It has nothing to do with my worth. It’s more of it would be a lie to say it doesn’t define me, because it does define the actions that I do every day. If I’m going to take a shower, it’s a different process. It will define the time that it takes, the way that I do it. If I’m going to travel, if I’m going to go and have a job interview, if I’m going to try and study, it will define my processes and the way I live. So erasing this history of disability, it’s erasing my culture. It’s erasing the culture that we have around disability, that we’ve been able to be. 

    The other day, also, somebody told me, “I’m amazed how disabled people are like the original hackers. They developed this amazing capabilities to hack the system that wasn’t built for them, which in the end becomes their competitive advantage.” I’m like, “Yeah, it’s true. We are the original hackers. We’re hacking the system every day, because it doesn’t work for us. It’s something to be proud of. Yeah.” But then I kept thinking, “Well, why? Why should I be hacking the system? Why shouldn’t the system just work for me?”

Ashley Inkumsah:

Exactly. 

Maryangel Garcia-Ramos:

Like everybody else. Well, almost everybody else. I could be a part of that. Yeah, it’s good that we developed these capabilities, but in the end, is this the best way to develop them? Why doesn’t it work that way for us, also? We understand that. So yeah, it’s about taking this inspirational porn-y, existentialist narrative around that, and start looking it as not one single story. There will be different stories. Someone who is deaf in Mexico and someone who is deaf in Chicago probably will tell you a different story, right? If they’re a man or a woman or a person or whatever, it will be probably a different story, even in the same communities. There’s a lot of amazing things to be told, that I think studios and decision-makers and storytellers, there’s an opportunity that they’re missing. If they use a broad spectrum of stories, business will come out of that. 

Ashley Inkumsah:

Yep. The disability community is definitely not a monolith. There is so many rich stories to be told. That statement that you said that someone told you, the idea that your disability doesn’t define you, that reminds me of when people say, “I don’t see color.” You know, that statement. That’s exactly what that made me think of. The idea that we can’t exist as people of color, we can’t exist, we live in a racialized society, we live in an ableist society, so we can’t exist in this society without every day knowing that we are people of color, that you are disabled. You know what I’m saying?

Maryangel Garcia-Ramos:

Yeah. 

Ashley Inkumsah:

So the idea that your disability doesn’t define you, or your color doesn’t define you, it very much does because of the systems that we exist in, whether we like it or not. 

Maryangel Garcia-Ramos:

Definitely, it does. In order to erase your history, your culture, why would you erase that? You understand where they’re coming from. They’re like, “I’m trying to tell you that I’m not racist.” 

Ashley Inkumsah:

They mean well, but at the end-

Maryangel Garcia-Ramos:

Exactly. You’re like, “Yeah, but.” Even just saying it, it does have a tint of racism that you don’t understand, that’s internalized as well. 

Ashley Inkumsah:

Absolutely. 

Maryangel Garcia-Ramos:

So it’s very important to … Yes, definitely. Obviously I’ve heard other activists saying that it’s very tiring to educate everyone. It’s very tiring. Why should I get that role? I just want to live. I don’t want to keep on educating. I understand if people don’t want to do it, because you have the right to say, “I’m sick of trying to educate every white person around us. I’m sick of trying to educate.” I get it. In the end, it can be very tiring of course, but I think we need to continue. I think we need to be a little bit more understanding of the collective power that we have as disabled people. 

    I think there is a big area of opportunity there, with us and the world. I see it in Mexico and I see it in other places, of us uniting as a collective force. Because we are a very important political power, and we’re not seen that way. We’re one-fourth of the population in the world, so don’t tell me that we’re … If we’re called a minority, we’re huge. 

Ashley Inkumsah:

1.3 billion are disabled, globally. 

Maryangel Garcia-Ramos:

When you go to a bank and do a line, put them in line. Put us in a line and see if we’re a little. There is a lot of them, a lot of us. We need to understand the power that we have. Sometimes I think we don’t because of the ableist system that keeps us in the lower … “Don’t rise. Stay there.” 

Ashley Inkumsah:

Exactly. 

Maryangel Garcia-Ramos:

We have a big power, if we do it collectively. It’s not like we have to go and educate every single person. I get it. I get if someone is just like, “I’m sick of this.” But we need to be together, to make our statements and keep on pushing what we need to push. Especially with a very intersectional perspective. To me, that’s key to understanding our different powers within a community. 

Ashley Inkumsah:

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    I want to discuss your personal experiences, as a Mexican woman with a disability. Can you speak about, both culturally and socially, what your experiences were growing up and what they still are now?

Maryangel Garcia-Ramos:

Thank you Ashley. In my case, I wasn’t born with a disability. When I was 13, I didn’t have an accident or anything, just my back started to hurt. I was a dancer and I did a lot of sports. My back started to hurt, and then one day it was hurting so bad. What happened was, in my case, I had a neurological thing around my spine and whatever. It ended up with an operation, and it ended up with me becoming a person with a disability, in a wheelchair, without me being able to move my legs. 

    Then I continue to experience the world now, from the vision of having a disability. To me, I’ve always said it, in the first place, obviously being a woman, a Mexican woman, a Latina in Mexico and having a physical disability, we are, I am in a place of we’re the most intersectional discriminated group in Mexico, women with disabilities. Women with disabilities in the world, we’re like 10 times more likely to live sexual violence and gender-based violence. It’s a difficult place to be. 

    But I’ve always said, and I speak from my privilege, in the end I’ve never been a rich person or anything, but from the privilege that I have, I’ve had the opportunity to study, to have a master’s degree, to have light, running water, and food every day in my home. Which is basically not the average person with a disability in Mexico. I’ve understood that. I’ve understood the responsibility that comes from that. 

    For a long time, I felt, with my friends, I was the only one with a disability. Then when I kept on meeting other people and meeting other groups, that’s when I saw the importance of making tribes and understanding other experiences with disabilities, and other women with disabilities. 

    My work has been, right now I lead the Diversity and Inclusion office for Tecnológico de Monterrey, which is the biggest private university in Mexico and Latin America. It’s huge. It’s really huge. At the same time, I’ve been an activist and a consultant and speaker around these issues. 

    I’m also the founder of the Mexican Women With Disabilities organization. We decided to do that four years ago because I understood the power of, yes, we need to talk about disability. Of course. We need to be a strong force and always bring disabilities issues to the table. But we need to talk about gender and disability and that intersection, especially when it comes to women. Nobody was talking about it. 

    I understood the privilege that I had, being able to be in different platforms like the United States, and the work that I have to this day, the places that I’ve been able to raise my voice and be and talk. Even me speaking English, it’s a privilege, speaking two or three languages, coming from this country.  Obviously speaking English has opened doors. Right now I’m talking to you, right? It has opened doors that a lot of people don’t have that. 

    To me, it was like, “Well, we need to find ourselves, as women with disabilities. We need to talk about the issues that nobody is talking about. Violence. If we want to talk about menstrual health, we want to talk about sex.” Nobody talks about that to us. We don’t talk about sex and reproductive rights, because of machismo and patriarchy and all these systems. At the same time, ableist systems that we don’t even see a woman with disabilities would want to … We don’t even talk about it. It’s not even on the table, right? 

    When we talk about our ability to decide, for example in the case talking about Britney Spears right now, which has been publicized because she is Britney. I love her. She’s been my queen since forever. But there’s a lot of people that have been going through the same things, with their legal capacity and with their rights and their reproductive rights, but we’re not talking about it when it comes to women with disabilities. 

Ashley Inkumsah:

Because they’re not celebrities. As much as I … Again, me too. Britney Spears, growing up, she was my queen as well. 

Maryangel Garcia-Ramos:

Yeah. 

Ashley Inkumsah:

But I feel that this movement, I worry that it’s less about disability justice and more just about fandom. I don’t necessarily see that same energy being directed towards people who are marginalized, people who are poor and have disabilities. I don’t see that. That’s my concern with it. 

Maryangel Garcia-Ramos:

Completely. Completely. Obviously it opens the door for conversation, which I think is amazing. Because it’s happening, because it’s her. Even her, with all the privilege that she’s had, she’s living this. It helps us to ignite conversations around, “Well, what happens when you’re not Britney? What happens when you’re not white? What happens when you’re …” 

    We need to keep on talking about gender and disability. It’s something that, in my experience, the way I’ve grown into your own self-love and my own perspective and maturity and understanding, and deconstructing all of these thoughts that you have and the way you learn, to me it was by being next to other women with disabilities and their experiences, with their own stories. 

    That’s what I’ve been doing, to this day. We’ve been pushing the issue. We raise our voices through reports that we give to the UN. At the same time we create content, we create platforms. We create these tribes in different states in Mexico, to see, “Okay, where are these women with disabilities? Okay, we talk about them a lot, but where are they? Can they all put their words in a Facebook group and talk about it? Where are they, and where are, especially, the most marginalized women with disabilities in this country?” Especially Afro Mexican women with disabilities, especially Indigenous or originary groups in Mexico who have a disability. Where are our trans women with disabilities? Where are they? We need to speak to them. We need to listen to them. We need to create these tribes and find ourselves. 

    To me, it has been a process around understanding that, and being able to listen. I think it’s one of the most important things, is to listen. We will always talk from our experience. We will always talk about what we learn. But if we have even the slightest tiny privilege or decision-making, even the slightest, tiniest, we can open doors for a lot of people who haven’t. Not because it’s our responsibility, but in my case because I chose to do so. The moment that I say that’s it, that’s it. 

    It’s been amazing to understand the collectiveness, the collective, same feeling, collectively, that we all live, and the things that intersect us. It’s been a long journey. To me, I’ve been having a disability for around 21 years of my life now and experiencing the world that way. 

    Also, listening to women from other parts of the world. Even in the feminist movement, sometimes we are the forgotten sisters. When we talk about diversity, the last thing that we talk about is disabilities. We never make sure that everything is accessible, our videos, our meetings. I’ve seen some feminists that criticize women in general, for not putting their bodies on the line, marching, because we need that, to put your body right there. I told them, “A lot of women with disabilities can’t put their bodies there.” It’s important to understand that it doesn’t make us less feminist, or it doesn’t make us less interested in the subject. It’s just that we have got to understand that us women with disabilities, we’re also women. It’s important.

    Also, opening the door to everybody that’s part of the trans community or are non-binary. Because in the end they’re in limbo, right? We need to also listen to those stories and the particular experiences that they live and how we link them to our feminist movements, or how we link them to our gender equality movements, as well, within the vision of disability. 

    To me, that’s very important, and it’s something that I will keep pushing as long as I decide to. I think it’s something that we need to raise more our voices and be more vocal about it. Not literally, but yeah. 

Ashley Inkumsah:

Absolutely, I agree with you one hundred percent. I love the work that you’re doing with your organization, Mexican Women With Disabilities. I love that you are pushing for every state in Mexico to have disabled women as leaders. I feel like definitely, as women, we’re brought up to … Although society is progressing, like we talked about, but we’re definitely as women globally brought up to not want to seek leadership. I just love the fact that you are trying to have women aspire to those roles. If you can tell us more about the work that you’re doing to cultivate disabled women leaders in Mexico, I would love to hear more about it. 

Maryangel Garcia-Ramos:

Thank you. Mexican Women With Disabilities, we’re a nonprofit organization. We’re all volunteers, basically. We’re not sustainable yet. What we do is three things. The first one is creating tribes and creating networks of women with disabilities. Through our Facebook groups, through different networks, so that we can identify them in different states. 

    When we link to other organizations and have different workshops, or there’s opportunities to for them to be in a position of leadership, or even in political spaces, whatever spaces they are, not necessarily in government, we can download this information to them. We can push that information. We can identify them. We can just be together and talk about issues, and not feel alone in this world, all together. 

    The second thing that we do, we create content. Through our platforms, through our storytelling, we create content. We have a platform that we call Disability Talks. We talk about issues from the perspective of women with disabilities. It has been amazing because we’ve been able to talk about things that they weren’t talked about before, kind of content. It has been great. 

    Then the third one, we do everything that has to do with political incidents, political advocacy. We’ve been working closely with the senate to, for example, in the States, to change this law that is designed to prevent violence for women, but it didn’t include disability and it didn’t include interculturality. We were like, “Well, this law cannot pass. This bill cannot pass.” We were pushing that forward, as an organization. At the same time, we’re creating these different reports, that we’re collaborating with human rights here in Mexico, or the United Nations. We’re doing all that, those three pieces of work. 

    I think the most important one will always be the creating networks of women with disabilities. The moment we identify ourselves, we find ourselves, and we see our power, then that’s the way everything changes. They see us. They see us, and we open doors. 

    There’s a beautiful quote I’ve always loved since I was a little girl. I love Frida Kahlo. There’s something memorizing about her. 

Ashley Inkumsah:

Yes. 

Maryangel Garcia-Ramos:

We lived in Mexico City, and I’ve been to her home like three, four times. I love her. I identified with her eventually, after I had my disability, because of our broken spines and everything that she felt and how broken she felt, and it was amazing. 

    There was this one letter that she wrote one time. I’m not going to exactly say it that way, but it was something around a quote that she said. “There was this one time that I felt really lonely and really broken. I felt that’s the way I was going to feel forever, in my life. Then I stopped and I realized that, what if there’s someone in the world that feels as broken as me and feels so much like I do?” Then she says, “If you are reading this right now, that I’m writing, I have to tell you that you’re not the only one. You’re not alone. If you do feel as broken as me, then we’re together. You’re not alone, and we’re broken together.” 

    To me, it’s one of the most beautiful quotes I’ve read and I’ve seen. To me, it’s just like here’s this woman that I’ve never met in my life, I just admire her work so much, and her life, in every sense, in every single way, but how amazing it is to connect with another woman. Especially what you’re going through. Not only the negative parts, but also the beautiful parts of life, the beautiful parts of being part of a stable community. 

    To me it’s just like, the part of not feeling alone, the part of this world being so unequal and so unjust towards these discriminated groups we might be part of, historically discriminated, then how amazing it is to find yourself with someone, to see yourself in a little piece of someone else. To me, that has been powerful. The way that I work, and that I push towards, our activism, our advocacy, is understanding that, “Yeah, I will tell my story, I will tell my perspective, but I have all these historical people who opened the way and all my sisters behind me.” Not behind me, but beside me, right? That’s how I feel. 

    To me, that’s very important. That’s what helped me and has been helping me, and the way that I see it, with other women with disabilities in Mexico, to understand the power that we have, by ourselves but also collectively. 

Ashley Inkumsah:

I love that. I love it. I love all the work that you’re doing. It’s amazing. What advice would you give to other women with disabilities, especially women of color, who maybe are aspiring to attain leadership positions or a sense of community, but they’re experiencing sexism and ableism and are maybe feeling discouraged? What would you tell them? 

Maryangel Garcia-Ramos:

I would say, “Keep pushing.” Keep pushing, but not on your own. Do the work that you have to do on your own, but make sure that you have these tribes, that you’re part of this community. I think when we’re part of this collectiveness, it creates this political pressure on organizations, on governments. So we have to find ourselves, give us strength together, and say, “I’m here, but I’m also part of this community.” I think that changes everything. 

    Also I would say, “Keep telling your stories.” It doesn’t matter where. If you have 100 followers on Instagram, if you have four, or you’re telling your story to your family, to your friends. Or if you have a huge platform and you’re as big as Beyonce. I don’t know. Just keep telling your story, because I do believe storytelling changes the world. Especially when it comes to people who haven’t been able to tell our stories, especially women with disabilities who are of color. We know this. It’s something that has to keep on happening, because then it will happen, how we started this conversation, they will tell our stories without us. We will be invisible to a lot of groups. We need to keep on pushing. 

    Also, “We’re not alone.” We’re all in this together, as women, and as women with disabilities. We find ourselves. I think that’s so valuable. In this life, I don’t know if we will come back in some other kind of way or in another life, but in this one particularly, it’s amazing. To me, it has been amazing to find other women that inspire me because of who they are, because of how they’ve managed to live, to do life. Not because of their disabilities, precisely, but because of their essence, because of who they are. I think that’s key, as mentorship, for us to keep on pushing. 

Ashley Inkumsah:

What advice would you give to television, people who work in executive positions in television, in film, in the media, as to why they should include people with disabilities? What would you tell them?

Maryangel Garcia-Ramos:

I would say, first of all, listen. I think a good leader knows how to listen. If this is a business, then keep on listening, because there is a big business around the stories that have not been told and that you can tell. They would definitely be successful. 

    Also, it’s not about only social responsibility or because diversity and inclusion is the right thing to do. It’s the strategic thing to do. It’s the organic thing to do, because the world is diverse. As we said, we’re one-fourth of the population in the world. Why are you not telling these stories? There’s stories that could sell, and there’s stories that could reach the other people. Sometimes they tend to think that disabled stories will only touch disabled people. Or if we tell stories about Black people, they will only touch Black people, they’re only made for Black people. Not necessarily, right? And LGBT. They tend to think that. They’re these boxes. No. For us, in the user experience, with our diversity, no, it doesn’t. It touches a lot of people. 

    It’s imperative to tell these stories not only because of representation and it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s a big business opportunity and because it is an opportunity and a responsibility to transform the world and to teach the world new stories. That’s their role. That’s what they get paid for. That’s where their talents reside. Open it. Open that box that nobody wants to really open and they’re afraid of. And make us part of that process. 

Ashley Inkumsah:

Absolutely. 1.3 billion, that’s a pretty big number. That’s a pretty big audience to reach. Even if you’re not included in that 1.3 billion, disability intersects every single one of our lives. Maybe our family members, our friends. We all know someone and love someone who has a disability. I mean, it’s high time for sure, for people with disabilities to be included. One hundred percent, yeah. Well, thank you so, so much for sitting down with me and chatting today. I so enjoyed this conversation so much. Where can our audience keep up with you and all the amazing work that you’re doing?

Maryangel Garcia-Ramos:

Thank you, Ashley. This has been an amazing conversation. Yeah, let’s keep on talking. You can find Mujeres Mexicanas con Discapacidad, Mexican Women With Disabilities, you will find them on Instagram, on Twitter, and on Facebook. You can find me, Maryangel, in Twitter at maryangel_ and maryangel_grg at Instagram. 

Ashley Inkumsah:

Awesome. Well, thank you so, so much. I really enjoyed the conversation. I really did. 

Maryangel Garcia-Ramos:

Thank you so much. Yeah, let’s keep doing things together. 

Ashley Inkumsah:

For sure, for sure. (music).

    Yet another great conversation. Dare I say one of my favorites that I’ve had on this podcast. Although all of our guests have been absolutely exceptional, but Maryangel really honed in on the idea that people with disabilities deserve to have accurate, nuanced depictions of them on television, in film, and in the media overall. Movie and TV sets need to be accessible. They need to have people with disabilities in the writers room, behind the camera, directing, producing, everywhere decisions are being made. 

    She also gave some awesome advice to women with disabilities, and she’s doing some awesome, actionable, transformative work with her nonprofit, Mexican Women With Disabilities. Again, just a really all around trailblazer, such an important voice in the Latinx disability community, and really in the global disability community overall. What an amazing pleasure it was, to speak with her. 

    Thank you guys, though, so, so much of listening to, watching, or reading today’s episode. It’s time for those famous last words here on What’s Up WID. To paraphrase one of our founders, Ed Roberts, “We need to get out there and change the old attitudes so we can build forward, better.” I’ll talk to you next time. 

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