Graphic via Denzel Boyd for COURIER
Graphic via Denzel Boyd for COURIER

Writer Melissa Blake voted for the future that she wants to see in her lifetime—a future where disabled people are accepted and inclusion isn’t an after-thought or a fight.

I couldn’t have been more than 10 years old when I first learned about the importance of being an advocate. That lesson came from my parents as they navigated the world of my disability—from making sure I got the care I needed in the hospital to helping me fulfill my educational goals.

I was born with Freeman-Sheldon syndrome, a rare genetic bone and muscular disorder, and I spent my childhood in and out of the hospital. My parents were my advocates—my voice—from the day I was born. I watched their fierce determination in taking care of me and in helping me build a life for myself, and, in turn, I learned how to be an advocate for myself. Their voice helped me find my own, and I wouldn’t be as determined as I am today if not for those early, formative years of watching my parents.

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Shortly after graduating college, I started my career as a freelance writer, and over the years, I’ve written a lot about living with a disability. Even in 2020, there is still so much ableism in our society and so many misconceptions about disabilities, which is why one of my goals has always been to combat that discrimination through my writing.

But I also know that I’m not just advocating for myself anymore because, honestly, it’s a scary time to be disabled in America. Disabled people are routinely bullied and viewed as second-class citizens; I regularly receive horrible comments online from people who think I’m a “thing” rather than a person. And right now, so many disabled people’s lives are literally in danger as we’re seeing increasing cuts to things like health care and other crucial social services.

That’s why I’ve voted in every single presidential election since I turned 18, and felt a greater sense of urgency this year. I even found myself counting down the days until early voting started, so I could make my voice heard in the voting booth. Because I’m not just voting for myself. I’m voting on behalf of all disabled people. I’m voting to speak up for every other disabled person who feels like they don’t currently have a voice. I’m voting for the future that I want to see in my lifetime—a future where disabled people are accepted and inclusion isn’t an after-thought or a fight, where our full personhood is recognized and we don’t have to constantly be afraid of losing services that are vital to our well-being.

Voting is an enormous responsibility and I’ve never taken that lightly. Our world feels out of control right now, but voting is one thing we all can do to take back some of that control. We all have a say in how we chart the course of our future and it is so important that we all speak up. We all can’t do everything, but all of us can do something.

I learned that from my parents too.

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