Ally

Who are allies, why are they needed and how to become one?

An ally is a supporter, an associate, a colleague, a partner, a friend.

Allies are usually members of another community that has a higher degree of rights and freedoms, who use their position of comparative privilege to amplify voices and influence change.

But, why do we need allies? In this day and age when means of mass communication are at everyone’s fingertips, why do we need people from communities with comparative privilege to back a set of people and their cause, to speak for them?

The answer to this lies in understanding agency.

Agency is a person’s capacity to act independently, to make their needs heard, seek action on an individual level and a societal scale.

Agency is also one of the things PwIDDs have not had historically, but have started to gain in the past few decades thanks to the passage of key international treaties and laws — UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2008) and the RPwD Act-2016. These laws could only be brought about because allies amplified PwIDD voices, thus emphasising the need for allies.

When we look back at the experiences of marginalised communities in the fight for inclusion we can see the impact their allies made in the fight for their rights. They were all instrumental in amplifying their voices at a societal and political level.

The ongoing movement for the rights of persons with disabilities also boasts of numerous allies whose dedication has been pivotal in bringing about some key changes.

Take, for instance, the passage of Rosa’s Law [1], which ended the use of the word mental retardation to address persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities (PwIDDs). This key change paved the way for inclusion of PwIDDs through an accurate and dignified representation of the medical condition, which too is now being studies from the lens of possibilities versus deficiencies.

This law would not have been possible without the then 9-year-old girl with Down Syndrome, Rosa Marcellino’s family and well-wishers — direct allies — rallying for her rights and creating a platform where millions of others — indirect allies in varying capacities — could make their voice heard.

In India, some allies who have been actively working for empowerment, greater rights, and inclusion of PwIDDs include Mr. Javed Abidi of NCPEDP, Air Marshal Denzil Keelor (Retd) of Special Olympics Bharat, Dr. Shanti Auluck of Muskaan PAEPID, Dr. Surekha Ramachandran of DSFI.

Their laurels rest on the shoulders of many nameless friends, supporters, colleagues, associates, partners and caregivers who rallied behind them, lifting them higher than they could have reached alone.

Oftentimes the nameless supporters are the ones who keep these champions going; they are the ones who keep reminding them to keep fighting the good fight.

By now, you have a sense of who an ally is. Let’s define one anyway to really underline the various shapes, sizes and capacities in which allies can appear. How each one of us, no matter our capacity, is important to bring dignity to the lives of PwIDDs — a community ~35 million large in India.

Who is an ally?

An ally is first a person “in a position of privilege and power” who enjoys freedoms, rights and opportunities the marginalised group does not. They seek to operate in solidarity with marginalised communities to amplify voices and influence change by “actively, consistently, and arduously practicing unlearning and re-evaluation”. [2] They are there to encourage members of the marginalised community, fight alongside them and support, knowing that the people they are supporting can rise up on their own if given the opportunity. 

One could correctly question here, can PwIDDs rise up and speak for themselves?

Yes, 85% of PwIDDs can. Statistics on the prevalence of IDDs shows that only 1-2% cases are of profound disability, another 10% are in the severe category, leaving the majority within the community affected but capable of functioning in their own capacity. 

For instance, given the right educational environment alongside their typically developing peers, PwIDDs can gain literacy, learn vocational skills and become capable of choosing their own path in life.

Creating a space where they can thrive, a space where this choice is as natural and unquestionable for PwIDDs as the neurotypical population, requires you and I — allies — to stand beside the community in our own capacity.

“How do I become an equal rights ally for persons with IDDs?”

There are many ways to become an ally [3], one must start by identifying the level of engagement one can have right here, right now, and grow from there. 

STEP ONE is to ask yourself: How deep do I want this allyship to be? Have I interacted with enough PwIDDs, or read enough to commit to deep allyship? If not, its ok. Work your way up to the level of support you can consistently extend. You will surprise yourself with how far you will end up walking with the PwIDD community with the many ways in which you can help them thrive.

You can start as an indirect ally, aka offer peripheral support, by 

Ø  Increasing your awareness and that of people around you. You may not be in direct contact with the people you are supporting, but remember that while amplifying their voice — online or offline — take special care to remain factual and not misrepresent them.

Ø  Read about IDDs, talk about it in your circles; raise awareness. Share fact-first and sensitively worded messages from the IDD community.

Ø  Commit to intentionally include persons with intellectual and developmental disability. About one in every 50 Indians has an IDD. Find that one person around you. If you can’t, look into how that can be changed in your school, neighbourhood, drawing room, office, public spaces, on social media.

STEP TWO to be an ally is by supporting IDD-owned businesses, or brands and organisations that are inclusive.

STEP THREE = deeper commitment.

Ø  Attend awareness events, seminars to expand your knowledge

Ø  turn up at marches

Ø  sign petitions

Ø  stay up to date on the literature

Ø  help create awareness material, fine-tune messaging,

Ø  open channels of communication with political influencers, or 

Ø  simply volunteer your time and skill.

Whatever you do, remember your demeanour, actions and words should not jeopardise the cause.
STEP FOUR is starting to advocate for the community. If you choose to do this for the community, do it in consonance. Remember, you are in partnership, and this partnership is NOT ABOUT WHAT YOU WANT. Talk to sector players, identify gaps and see how you can address them to bolster the movement for rights of persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

What do you gain from this relationship?

Reading about allyship can make the relationship feel only about the other party. A neurotypical person can be left wondering: What about me? Why am I doing this? What do I gain from it?

The truth is that learning about intellectual and developmental disabilities is not the same as learning about and knowing the wonderful people who happen to have them; their hidden potential and emotionally rich lives.

Gaining technical knowledge is just a small part of becoming an ally. The real joy is in getting to know yourself better, becoming more loving and compassionate, opening up your heart and mind to possibilities, people and solutions.

Aren’t these reasons enough to start the journey of becoming an ally?

What do you gain from this relationship?

Reading about allyship can make the relationship feel only about the other party. A neurotypical person can be left wondering: What about me? Why am I doing this? What do I gain from it?

The truth is that learning about intellectual and developmental disabilities is not the same as learning about and knowing the wonderful people who happen to have them; their hidden potential and emotionally rich lives.

Gaining technical knowledge is just a small part of becoming an ally. The real joy is in getting to know yourself better, becoming more loving and compassionate, opening up your heart and mind to possibilities, people and solutions.

Aren’t these reasons enough to start the journey of becoming an ally?

References

[1] https://www.specialolympics.org/stories/news/rosas-law-signed-into-law-by-president-obama

[2] https://theantioppressionnetwork.com/allyship/

[3] https://www.amnesty.org

 

More from Disability and Allyship 101

Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, Autism, ADHD. What are they?

85% of IDDs are mild to moderately severe. Most persons with cognitive impairment can lead full lives

Have you being unknowingly discriminating against persons with disabilities? Learn about ableism

Is intellectual disability the same as dyslexia? Learn the difference.

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