Learning from Disability Diva Donna Walton
Rockville, Md., June 12 – When Donna Walton walked into the RespectAbility office, she greeted us with a radiant smile and embraced me a warm hug. A champion for empowering women with disabilities, Walton brought an air of confidence and acceptance that could be felt by everyone in the room.
An engaging story-teller, Walton unfolded the obstacles she had to endure to become who she is today – a leader in the fight for the respect and dignity she believes all people deserve, especially African American women with disabilities. After losing her leg to osteogenic sarcoma in 1976, she described her need “to ensure that individuals like myself would not endure the trajectory of experiences I had lived.”
Walton is the president of LEGGTalk, Inc., which provides resources for individuals in transitional stages and strives to empower individuals to conquer their personal limitations and help them succeed. She also created the Divas With Disabilities Project, which has a goal of helping to shape the perception of what “disability” looks like by promoting women of color through various media platforms.
While explaining her work, she highlighted four main planes of her life that changed her life trajectory:
In her multi-published essay titled, “What’s a Leg Got to Do With It?”, Walton responds to society’s degradation of her identity as a woman due to her disability. She challenges the influence of negative stereotypes about women and their bodies. Walton has dedicated her life to combat what she calls the “negative socialization virus,” which describes the society’s misconceptions about women with disabilities.
Walton determined her target audience by highlighting a study that examined African Americans with disabilities, labeling a population that was subjected to under-education, less likely to be married or employed and more inclined to economic disadvantages.
As a student and teacher, she used her experiences to internalize and own her disability so it would not be her sole narrative or interfere with her goals and aspirations. She continues to work in dispelling stigmas.
Standard of Beauty:
Walton also addressed the misunderstanding of the coexistence of beauty and disabilities. As an African American woman with a disability, fitting into society’s “standard of beauty” was a difficult goal. “Other people’s perspectives had an impact on me and made me feel marginalized,” she said. Walton’s Divas With Disabilities Project, therefore, provides resources for women with disabilities; it connects them with global community to address intersectionality and inclusivity.
Walton’s parting advice was powerful: “Use every opportunity to advocate and educate others about disabilities and reflect personally on diversity and the intersection of your own identities.”
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RespectAbility is a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for and with people with disabilities. Learn more about the National Leadership Program and apply for the next cohort! Contact [email protected] for more information.
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