Tell us a little bit about yourself, Christopher?
I think the first thing you should know is I’m a raging Cajun. Born and raised in Gonzalez Louisiana, right outside of New Orleans. I have six brothers and sisters. My twin sister and I are the youngest. I was born with a developmental disability, known as cerebral palsy. I went too long without oxygen at birth and it damaged my brain. However, I have lived a full and successful life. I’m the only one in my family with a college degree. I have written three books and traveled all over the country doing motivational speeches and diversity training. You can read my full life story at ChristopherColeman.net.
Tell us about the My Voice Counts Movement
When you look back over recent history in America, you see a lot of people being heard. People of color have had the Black Lives Matter Movement, women have declared that time is up, the LGBTQIA community won their rights to love and the Me Too Movement is stopping sexual harassment in the workplace. But when you look at all the movements that have taken place, ask yourself where are the voices of disabled Americans. I will say that there’s a lot of talk about disabled veterans. But if you are not a veteran with a disability, there is no movement for the advancement of the disabled community as a whole. As a result, people with disabilities are living in poverty, with little education, suffering injustice and their voices are not being heard. People with disabilities can speak loudly, clearly, and with passion. The movement is to amplify the voices of every disabled American.
There is a personal commitment to this movement. Would you like to share?
Because the voices of disabled Americans are muffled and many times silenced, it exposes us to becoming easy targets. A lot of people have used the vulnerability of people with disabilities to make them victims. I can give you many accounts of times I’ve been victimized. But the most recent one is why started this movement. I was sexually harassed by a male nurse. Believe it or not, this is common in the disabled community. Most of the time because it is a family member or a close member of the family, it goes unreported. Not only that, our society as a whole does not want to believe we are depraved enough to take advantage of vulnerable people. I want to be the first to say this has happened to me and my voice counts.
What would you say to the people who don’t believe your story and feel like no one would make advances towards a disabled person?
Well, we don’t have to look too far to find people who live blindfolded to the truth. I don’t like to talk about politics but a person can’t take a stand in this country, without making a political statement. We know that there are people in this country who only believe what they want to believe. I’m ok with those people because I realize that truth doesn’t have to be validated to be the truth. Facts are Facts. And I have receipts.
What do you hope to accomplish through the movement?
I want to build a platform that displays the lives of disabled Americans. I want to share our stories, help them fight for their truth and justice and I want to empower them to shout from the rooftops, My Voice Counts Too! We are on a mission to make sure every voice in the disabled community is heard and accounted for.
Give us some examples of how you have personally been overlooked as a person with a disability
On a small scale, I go out to eat many times with friends. Four out of ten times the waitress will ask my company what I want to eat rather than asking me directly. On a larger scale, after I was assaulted by the nurse, I had a lawyer reach out to the doctor’s office to make them accountable for what happened on their watch. For months they did not respond to any of the letters. You see, there is a belief that if you ignore a disabled person, eventually they will go back in their corner and be quiet. The doctor used this tactic to wear down my lawyer and get him to drop the case but he didn’t wear down me. I went to the superior courts in Atlanta and filed a lawsuit myself. I experienced injustice in that doctor’s office and someone will be accountable for what that nurse did.
How would you advise young adults with disabilities?
The truth is, we are living in a time that our country is rebuilding and no longer tolerating discrimination and personal biases. This is our time to push forward. If I were a younger person in this time, I would use social media as a way to introduce my abilities and downplay my disability. I would tell them to be passionate about their abilities and don’t be overwhelmed by their disability. They are a voice in this world and they deserve to be heard.
What needs to happen for this movement to become a success?
A lot needs to happen to be honest. Our members and supporters have to be transparent and vocal. We need people with disabilities to share their stories via videos and articles. We need allies to come along beside the disabled community and help us turn up our voices. We need politicians to get on board and speak out for the community as well. We need the media to share our stories as well. July 26th has to be celebrated more. This day is National Disability Independence Day. This day needs to be recognized on the same scale as MLK Day, Black History Month, Gay Pride Month, and the Fourth of July. Become part of the movement by following us on Twitter at @myvoicecounts_2.
How can people without disabilities get involved in the movement?
Allies in any community are powerful people. Most civil rights changes happen when a large group who are not being suppressed rises and speaks out on the behalf of the suppressed. We all have family members, friends, and associates that deal with a disability every day. This movement needs allies in the fight. Make your voice be heard in the silent spaces of the disabled community.
What is the initial need for the movement to spark?
So we are hoping to build a social media platform/online magazine that shares the stories of people with disabilities and helps them connect with others. We also want this platform to provide updated information on programs and job opportunities. We are hoping to establish a direct line with media outlets and provide our political opinion on current events and how it affects the community. We want to build a disabled victim hotline so that the community can have a place to go to and report what is happening to them. And finally, we want our own social media platform where people can connect and chat with each other across the world about their disabilities, challenges, and victories. To build such a platform, we have to have a lot of contributions and manpower. So right now we estimate that we need at least $250,000.00 to launch the movement. We have started a Go Fund Me account. The link is gofund.me/41bacb12. Also, don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @myvoicecounts_2.