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Interview: Sonya Huber, Disability March – impactful online activism

On January 21 2017, around half a million people took part in the Women’s March in Washington D. C. Symbolically scheduled for the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration as 45th President of the United States, the aim of the Women’s March was to support and stand up for women’s rights and equality around the world, with millions more marching across the globe in related events. But what about those people who wanted to support the cause but couldn’t attend a march in person?

This was the dilemma facing many people with a disability or health issues. To address this widespread problem, an online virtual march was set up. The Disability March platform enabled anyone to show their support for the cause without having to physically march – a task that would have been dangerous for some and impossible for others.

Supporters signed-up to the online Disability March and shared their messages through the project’s blog and Twitter account. Thousands took part and others were able to see their stories unfold online.

Sonya Huber, an author and creative writing professor from Connecticut, was one of the organisers of the Disability March. e-Access Bulletin spoke to Huber to find out more.

- Please explain the concept of the Disability March:

“The Disability March is, in the simplest form, a blog. Each ‘marcher’ was an entry on the blog, and each entry was a photo of an individual along with his or her story of disability and message about marching in solidarity with the Women’s Marches. Most stories were explicit about the disability, the inability to physically march, and/or the ways in which the marcher would be impacted by proposed policies of the Trump administration.

“The blog was also linked to a Twitter account, @DisabilityMarch, so that as the marchers were put online by the volunteer team, the effect for viewers of the blog, and on Twitter, was of a parade slowly rolling by. Many people watched or engaged with these pieces when they were published and in the weeks after publication, and shared their own profiles as well as the profiles of others who moved them.”

- What was the background to the project?

“I came up with the idea for the Disability March in early December 2016, as plans for the January 2017 Women’s March in Washington D.C. were being hatched, and as I realised I wouldn’t be able to attend due to my rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune conditions. I shared the idea of a blog with a few friends, as a space for telling stories of those who are disabled and couldn’t march. We had our first ‘marcher’, Karrie Higgins, on December 21, and my goal was to get to 50 postings on the blog.”

- What was the overall goal of the Disability March?

“Our main idea was to be visible as members of the disability community who are going to be heavily impacted by the Trump administration’s proposed policy changes to the ACA [Affordable Care Act] and proposed cuts to Medicaid. So our goal was to put the stories of disabled people front and centre, giving them space to say what they feared about the Trump agenda and what we need as a community.”

- How did the online march go on the day?

“A week before the Women’s March, we started to get hundreds of entries. I recruited about 20 volunteers to help with uploading the entries by hand into the blog. During the day of the march I didn’t go to a local physical march; I was on the computer for about 12 hours a day, uploading and responding to inquiries.”

- How many people took part in the online Disability March?

“Our final number was 3,021 entries. I was completely surprised by the success of it.”

- What do you think it shows about the power of technology for persons with disabilities?

“I think it shows that people who aren’t able to attend marches are nevertheless hungering for participation, connection, and visibility.”

- What has been the reaction since the online march?

“We have a Facebook group of about 1,800 people and we are in touch with other disability rights organisations to talk about how to move forward.”

- Are any online marches planned for the future?

“We are talking about possibilities!”

- What else do you have planned for the project now the Women’s March has finished?

“The blog from the march will stay up, and we are using the website and Twitter to share resources about disability and action in politics.”

- I see you’re also encouraging people to arrange their own online disability marches. Tell us about that:

“I want to get the wider political organising community to take on doing these visibility actions, in order to include those people in their communities. This is an organising tool that any organisation can use.”

For more information, visit the Disability March website:
http://eab.li/4x .

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