Hi everybody! My name is Ollie Cantos and I’m Chairman of the board here at RespectAbility. And I am excited to have this opportunity to join with others in celebrating Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander Heritage Month. This is a really wonderful time of year for us to celebrate the accomplishments, in this particular context, of members of the AAPI community who also happen to have disabilities.
The thing that we all may keep in mind is that each of us is part of a broader community. We have multiple identities that includes AAPI community members who also have a disability, which could be visible or non-visible. There are people who have physical disabilities, such as mine with my being blind, as well as intellectual disabilities, psychiatric disabilities, and learning disabilities. And no matter what our disabilities happen to be, we each have innumerable gifts, talents, and abilities and skills to contribute to the overall world within every aspect of societal life.
And so typically within our AAPI community, with my being Filipino American, I have seen firsthand about how attitudes can be different with regard to the way people think of individuals with disabilities. We need to keep in mind that just because a person has a disability doesn’t mean that they correspondingly have lower ability to contribute to the broader society as a whole. And in recognizing that, it’s important for us to look at our mindset of how we look at disability itself. To whatever extent that we see disability as debilitating and tragic and a condition that we simply can’t get past or get around, or to the extent that we think we need to hide that we have a disability because of any shame or stigma associated with it, we can actually take a look at that to modify that paradigm to recognize that disability is just a characteristic that is a part of who we are, but that does not necessarily define the whole of who we are.
And disability is not a bad or dirty word. It is important for us to see that we are just as mean or nice as anybody else, just as kind or unkind as anybody else, just as lazy or ambitious as anybody else, whatever the particular attribute you’d like to look at, we as members of the disability community represent every aspect of community.
And so today, as we stop to look at the many contributions of AAPI community members with disabilities, we celebrate what they have done and what our disability community, as a whole has done to advance equality of opportunity and access to every facet of societal living. We also excitedly and enthusiastically call upon everyone to recognize the attributes that each of us brings to the table and to do our part to expand opportunities for each of us to reach our greatest potential. If, or to the extent that we do that, we will create a more inclusive and more equitable world and we will be a part of the change that we want to see.
Thank you so much, everyone, and happy AAPI Heritage Month.