Photo depicting a panel discussion on the topic of disability with two presenters seated in front of a projector screen with a slideshow display behind them.

Rooted in Rights Aims to Create Inclusive Space for Individuals With Disabilities

by Laszlo Jajczay

Disability Rights Washington, a nonprofit that protects the rights of people with disabilities, noticed a trend in the media industry that disturbed them. There weren’t any stories told about people in the disability community and the structural inequities in education, jobs, and other aspects of their lives.

“We weren’t seeing disability well represented in any kind of media, and the thought was that with the equity of social media, we could produce our own media by and for folks with disabilities,” said creative director Allexa Laycock.

So Disability Rights Washington created the media advocacy project Rooted in Rights to fill the gap in coverage.

Photo depicting a newsroom meeting with many crewmembers seated around a conference room table.
A Rooted in Rights newsroom meeting. Photo courtesy of Rooted in Rights.

Seattle-based Rooted In Rights provides a space for people with disabilities to engage with each other and talk about the issues they face through storytelling, blog posts, and creating videos that highlight major barriers for people in the community. The organization also creates solutions that make the world safer and more equitable for people with disabilities.

As the organization’s creative director, Laycock says she and her team use a variety of techniques ranging from documentaries to “storyteller programs,” where people from different walks of life share personal stories and the impact a situation had on not just themselves but their friends and family.

They also do a lot of video stories that focus on self-advocacy.

“It’s a big scope of things that we do,” Laycock said. “But it’s really about sharing stories of people with disabilities.”

The project also fosters outreach by showcasing the work of state and local governments and grassroots organizations by offering an inside look at conditions for people with disabilities.

“We can go any place where people with disabilities are. We’re allowed to go in, we’re allowed to talk with people, we’re allowed to ask them how it’s going,” Laycock said. “Part of what the lawyers at Disability Rights Washington do is they go to different institutional settings, different nursing home settings, prisons, and jails.”

This is where Disability Rights Washington comes in. They are responsible for ensuring that people with disabilities have access to services and resources such as food and housing assistance and voter registration, among other things.

“They are monitoring those facilities to try and get people better access to what they need and also make sure that their rights are being upheld,”  Laycock said.

Photo depicting filming of an interview session for Rooted in Rights with two female-presenting individuals seated at a table in front of a green screen, the camera in the foreground.
Rooted In Rights uses a lot of filmmaking and video editing techniques in each of their storytelling series. They are meant to show the stories of individuals and how they are impacted by issues in their community. Photo courtesy of Rooted in Rights.

Rooted In Rights’ videos feature different aspects of disability, such as how nature and the outdoors impact people with disabilities. There are also testimonials featuring people with disabilities that highlight issues related to access, transportation, and other needs. In one testimonial, a 2020 Disabilities, Opportunity, Internetworking, and Technology (DO-IT) participant explains some of the accessibility challenges for people who use wheelchairs in China and how significant investments in the country’s infrastructure would make it easier for them to travel. A University of Washington program, DO-IT offers resources and education for individuals with disabilities to pursue a college degree, explore a career path, and live productive and independent lives.

Testimonials allow individuals in the disability community to have a voice by advocating for improvements in their city, such as installing ramps for wheelchair users, providing adequate lighting at night, and making signs legible for people who have low vision, among other accommodations.

Other organizations that focus on disability and inclusion include Incight, a nonprofit that allows individuals with disabilities a chance to be a part of the workforce, pursue their own educational and career goals, and be active members in the community.

Incight and Rooted in Rights strive to illustrate the importance of including people with disabilities in a variety of settings and making them a part of the community. In order to do that though, Laycock points to another issue that needs to be addressed when looking at disability and disability rights — ableism.

“Ableism really intersects with so many other issues. If you’re not learning about ableism and unpacking the ableism in your own life, it’s going to be a little bit hard to unpack everything else as well,” Laycock said.

“Disability is not always included in those conversations around equity and around diversity, but it absolutely should be.”

Laszlo Jajczay is a freelance journalist, a proud UW alum, and a writing enthusiast, who loves reporting on all sorts of communities in Seattle.

📸 Featured Image: Courtney Cole (left) and Vanessa Link (right), creative production assistants for Rooted in Rights, lead a panel discussion with members of the DO-IT program at the University of Washington. They discuss the importance of working with experts and other professionals in disability advocacy, policy, and other areas. Photo courtesy of Rooted in Rights.

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