At the Intersection of Disability and Race: Interview with Wendy Lu
Written by: Suzanna Chen
Edited by: Harvi Karatha

May is marked as Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month in the U.S.—a time to celebrate the beautiful identity and cultural diversity brought to us by the AAPI community. However, while doing so, it is also important for us to acknowledge that many within the community face unique struggles and compounded discrimination as they stand at the intersection of multiple marginalized identities. To explore more, I was incredibly honoured to have invited Wendy Lu, a disabled Asian-American journalist and advocate, to discuss her experiences with holding an intersectional identity. We at Detester Magazine hope that our readers will enjoy learning from the most authentic sources, and please remember to visit some of Wendy’s work listed at the end of the interview.

1. Can you briefly introduce yourself to our readers at Detester Magazine?
My name is Wendy, and I'm a news editor and reporter at “HuffPost.” I cover disability, politics and culture

2. Disability discrimination is an issue regrettably overlooked by many.
a) How would you describe the current prevalence of ableism against people of disabilities?
*Ableism is, unfortunately, everywhere. It comes in many forms, from overt discrimination to the smallest of microaggressions, across all systems and levels of society — whether it's education, health care, employment, family dynamics and relationships, and so forth. People with disabilities both visible and invisible, physical and mental, intellectual and developmental, etc., can all experience ableism. Many people still do not even know what ableism is, much less that it exists,and because we live in a world that's not built for us, many disabled people also internalize ableism as well.

*ableism: a system that places value on people’s bodies and minds based on societally constructed ideas of normality, intelligence, excellence, desirability, and productivity, leading to discrimination against people who do not fit within these constructs. One does NOT have to be disabled to experience ableism.

b) What can be done to improve the present situation?
It's going to take a complete restructuring of society, including changes to our individual mindsets, changes to institutional policies, a move toward community care, and so much more. It's going to take dismantling racism, sexism, xenophobia, transphobia, and discrimination in all forms because disability is an identity that is present across all communities. We can't have an accessible, more equitable society if that doesn't include disabled BIPOC (Black, Indigeous, and People of Color), LGBTQ+, immigrants and people of other marginalized communities.
To quote the activist *Mia Mingus, "When access is a practice of love, it is no longer simply about logistics and something you have to do, but something you want to do."

*Mia Mingus: an advocate who is queer, physically disabled, korean, transracial, and a transnational adoptee raised in the Caribbean

3. It has been a positive advancement that many higher education institutions and workspaces are offering increasing accommodations for disabled students/employees.
a) What are your opinions on the current accessibility of education and work?
Access is and has always been a major issue in both the education system and the workplace. Even though the *ADA was passed more than 30 years ago, disabled people still experience employment discrimination during the hiring process and at their everyday jobs. Students with disabilities often have to navigate an inaccessible campus or encounter faculty and staff who don't understand their need for accommodations. There's a general fear of liability whenever disability or the *ADA comes up, so the default is to just not talk about it — which is harmful itself. Also, when we request better accessibility or accommodations, it's often viewed as providing "special treatment" for "special needs." — but our needs aren't special: they're basic human rights. It's not about giving us an extra advantage at all but to make things equitable and to make up for a disadvantage that was already placed there by society.
It's important for both schools and organizations to realize that there are many different kinds of disabilities and accommodations — it can mean building access, yes, but it can also mean slight modifications to current policies or different versions of class or work materials, and this is just barely scratching the surface. I haven't even touched on the fact that disabled people bring so much creativity and innovation to a classroom or workplace; hiring disabled people is good for the economy AND it's the right thing to do. There is so much about access and disability in education and employment that I could go on and on about.

*ADA (Amercians with Disabilities Act): a civil law passed to ensure equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities with five “titles” that correspond with different public sectors: employment, state and local government, public accommodations, telecommunications, and “Miscellaneous Provisions'' (ex. ADA’s relationship to other laws, state immunity, its impact on insurance providers and benefits, prohibition against retaliation and coercion, illegal use of drugs, and attorney’s fees)

b) As most of our readers are young adults, can you share some of your experiences and advice with current or prospective disabled people in post-secondary education and those entering the workforce?
After college, I spent a year working at a recruiting company and saving up money before moving to New York City for grad school. I got my masters in journalism, and immediately after graduating, I did a couple of fellowships at various media outlets. Once those fellowships were over, I spent two years freelancing, working at a health care nonprofit to help pay the bills, and applying for journalism jobs. It took me that long to actually get hired at my current company, “HuffPost.”
I think the main takeaway here is that even though there's a lot of pressure and expectations around getting the perfect job right after school, SO many people do not follow a linear path. Take whatever time you need to prepare for your next step, and it's okay to veer off if you need to help pay the bills, take care of family, take care of yourself, etc. Don't be afraid to speak up and ask for what you need, whether it's a higher salary or a mental health day. The reality is that companies are mainly focused on the bottom line, so you have to be able to put yourself first, learn to say no, and (if you're not in a situation that's ideal), take the steps to find something better.

4. We understand that your work involves advocating for more representation and more accurate portrayals of disabilities in the media.
a) What are some current concerns regarding disabilities in the media?
I see a lot of *inspiration porn—stories that praise disabled people as heroes or inspirations solely for being disabled. Disability is often portrayed as either a weakness or a superhero trait with little space for nuance. We're often boxed into these stereotypes that aren't actually true [and can] even be actively harmful.
Oftentimes, disability is viewed as just a "health care issue," or it's only covered in the lifestyle or features section in the form of "feel-good stories" (again, inspiration porn). But disability is relevant in every news section, whether it's politics, relationships, education, celebrity news, or (yes) health care. It requires hiring, retaining, and promoting disabled people in newsrooms to not only cover disability issues well, but to ensure that newsrooms themselves are accessible and are inclusive workplaces for disabled workers to feel welcome and to thrive in.

*inspiration porn: the portrayal of people who experience disability as inspirational solely or in part due to their disability

b) How can we advocate for improvement on these issues?
It's crucial for non-disabled people to speak up about issues of inaccessibility and the lack of disabled people in the room. Hiring just one or two disabled people isn't going to cut it (that's tokenizing), and it shouldn't just be the responsibility of the disabled people who are present to convince nondisabled people to care. It's not something that will be resolved in a day, a week, or a month. It's going to take very intentional steps and lots of practice to learn and unlearn. It means putting money behind the claims made of inclusion, perhaps by creating an accessibility hub where products are constantly tested to ensure they're accessible for disabled audiences. It means speaking up even when it's hard. There's so much.

5. The disabled community encompasses incredible diversity. Many disabled people, including myself, have an “invisible disability,” which is frequently misunderstood or attracts curious glances upon revelation. How would you suggest the non-disabled population interact with people with “invisible disabilities”?
One major and necessary step is for non-disabled people to just acknowledge that invisible disabilities exist. Too often, there's an assumption that if you don't look disabled, you must not be disabled.
It's important to recognize that disability encompasses a vast array of conditions — it includes wheelchair users and deaf and blind people, but also chronic pain, diabetes, mental illness, and so much more. Some invisible disabilities can become visible or apparent depending on the day — it's important to be understanding of that and avoid thinking that they must be "faking" or other ableist mindsets
Also, know that you aren't entitled to knowing everything about the lives of disabled people and that includes people with invisible disabilities.

6. While acknowledging the COVID-19 pandemic’s detrimental impact on everyone, would you agree that it has been uniquely devastating for the disabled community? Why or why not?
When health experts talk about how people with "underlying health conditions" are at higher risk for severe illness due to the coronavirus, they're talking about disabled people. In particular, disabled people of color are especially vulnerable to COVID-19.

a) As an Asian-American woman, what are your opinions on current events and intersectional discrimination?
It has been heartbreaking and devastating for me to see the current rise in anti-Asian attacks (which, by the way, aren't new at all and have been "current" for a while), but it's even worse to see instances where bystanders have done nothing at all to help victims. It's difficult for me to even watch the footage of these attacks — it makes me feel physically ill. There's a long history of anti-Asian sentiment in this country (consider the *Chinese Exclusion Act, which banned immigration specifically of Chinese people into the U.S., and that was 1882). The difference is that more people are actually talking about it now.

*Chinese Exclusion Act: a United States federal law signed by President Chester A. Arthur on May 6, 1882 to prohibit all immigration of Chinese laborers, signifying the anti-Asian sentiments of the time

b) How does having a disability influence those who hold other marginalized identities?
Having a disability often exacerbates discrimination that already exists for people of other marginalized identities. For example, Black disabled people are at higher risk of experiencing police brutality. Disabled fat women of color are less likely to be believed at the doctor's office when they're in pain or having health issues. (This is true of those who have just one of these identities, but the issue is compounded when they hold multiple marginalized identities.) Undocumented immigrants often forgo healthcare out of fear that they'll experience repercussions due to their immigration status and that has a disproportionate impact on disabled immigrants. There are many other examples.

c) How can the non-disabled community support disabled people experiencing compounded discrimination (ex. disabled POC and women)?
It's a lot of what I mentioned before: speaking up, recognizing your privileges, putting in the internal work of learning and unlearning biases. That goes for both disabled and non-disabled people. It's important to recognize that compounded discrimination is even a thing. Disabled people of color experience racism and ableism while white disabled people experience just ableism (unless there's some other factor at play, such as class/socioeconomic status). Saying this doesn't take away from the hardships and experiences that white disabled people have faced; it just means those hardships aren't a result of discrimination based on skin color, [which is] crucial in understanding how to be a better ally to people who are multiply marginalized.
Likewise, just because I'm Chinese and have a tracheostomy tube doesn't mean I know what it's like to have every other disability or to experience racism targeted at a different BIPOC group — I don't. So I spend a lot of time thinking about how I can better uplift marginalized communities that I'm not a part of.

8. Lastly, what is the legacy you want to leave as an advocate? In other words, what do you want to achieve through speaking out so courageously?
It feels weird to think I would be leaving behind a legacy, and I certainly don't feel courageous because I feel like I'm just building off of the work that's already being done by so many other leaders in the disability space (including those who were steering the disability rights movement since before the ADA was passed in 1990). I do want to help show newsrooms that covering disability issues is a necessity. If you aren't covering disability, you're missing so many important stories and leaving out a good chunk of potential readership. Also, of course I want to keep telling stories about the disability community that are often overlooked — advocacy is one word for it.
To me, it's about doing well at my job. I'm doing what more and more journalists should be doing.

Thank you Wendy for having this important conversation with us!

Support Wendy’s work by…
Visiting her social media…
Instagram -> @wendyluwrites
Twitter -> Wendy Lu (@wendyluwrites)
Facebook -> Wendy Lu Writes - Home

Discovering her works on Huffpost -> Wendy Lu
Exploring her website ->