CBM will soon be attending the 13th AWID international forum in Brazil. We take this opportunity to interview our colleague Maegan Shanks who shares her experiences on being deaf and black, and talks about the challenges for women with disabilities to gain access to the gender movement.
Tell us about yourself, and what makes you passionate about what you do?
Maegan: I am the Disability Inclusive Development learning coordinator at CBM. I am a deaf woman, born and raised in a hearing family. I’ve experienced many challenges and frustrations throughout my education and career, as well as in my personal and social life. I felt limited at times that people had lower expectations of me. However, I knew I could do far more, my potential was greater. So I decided later that I want to support others who did not have the opportunities I was so fortunate to have – a great support system, my mother especially. Others do not always have that support, and that is what I want to do now – I want to support children and youth with disabilities in developing countries.
Maegan: Attitudinal and linguistic barriers have both been equal issues in my life. It is very upsetting when people look at deaf people and say of course she cannot be intelligent, she must be deaf-mute, or deaf and dumb. When I meet someone, they have an assumption that I do not know anything, I am not intelligent and that makes me feel horrible. So I show them who I am, I be myself, I show that deaf people are capable of doing anything.
When it comes to linguistic barriers, I believe sign language provides 100% accessibility to information and communication. However many people still view sign language negatively, and they need to understand that sign language does not impede my ability to succeed in this world. There have been many misunderstandings with parents who have deaf kids, because they feel that if the child signs that will limit their child’s ability to succeed. Yet for me having ASL and interpreters allows me an opportunity to do anything. It’s great to have an interpreter for language and communication accessibility. Once I had recognised ASL, doors opened for me and this is my passion to educate people - that sign language is a critical part of education. Once a child has sign language as their first language, they have everything to be successful.
Can you give us an example of a situation where you faced negative attitudes?
Maegan: I am a deaf woman. I am also a black woman, and sometimes I encounter situations where white men discount me because I am a 3-time minority (woman, black and deaf). So that feels like oppression. The way I deal with it is being my authentic self, showing people who I am, my intellect, letting my actions speak for me. Actions do communicate louder than words. So I do not just talk about it, I show it.
What do you think needs to change to remove these negative attitudes?
Maegan: Respect. We need to change the way people view the roles of women, because some people still have ancient beliefs that women should stay at home, girls should not go to school. We need to change mind-sets, respect women and their roles, so that their roles in society can be changed as well. Women are intentionally denied education and opportunities to contribute to society; this impacts the entire world and needs to change. Education starting with respect is where we need to begin.
What for you is the link between women, black and disability?
Maegan: It is important for us to look at intersectionalities of identity. We focus too much on just one. Gender, or race, or just on sexuality. We are never just one thing. We are a combination of all our identities. I am not just a woman, I identify also as a woman who is black from the south and deaf. People embrace multiple identities, when we deny one part of the person we deny the whole person. And if I’m ONLY a woman, what do I do about my race, my deafness? So we need to see how it all connects and correlates. We need to begin with viewing the person as an ENTIRE person, with all their different identities.
What are the challenges for women with disabilities gaining access to and talking with the gender movement?
Maegan: Women with disabilities have the highest risk of education, neglect, sexual abuse, and not having full access to healthcare. The gender movement is not necessarily including women with disabilities. We are currently addressing gender, but not including women with disabilities. You cannot accomplish your goals for all women equally if women with disabilities are not included as well. Period. If you want to accomplish this goal, you absolutely must include the most vulnerable women, which includes women with disabilities.
How important is it to work with others to create change?
Maegan: One single individual or organization cannot do it alone. We have to collaborate and communicate at all levels with different stakeholders- local, national and global levels. It is critical to reach out to other movements as well – those of gender and disability especially, and work together with other organisations to accomplish our common goals. Currently we have agenda 2030, a fantastic accomplishment. However, we cannot accomplish it without collaboration with other groups, we want to accomplish in 2030 a long-range development goal, for this we must include everyone. Together we can do it!