Gerry Altamirano is the Inclusion Strategist at Tangible Development. He also serves on the Board of Directors for CIL. On this episode we’ll be unpacking a lot of terms and concepts that are used in having conversations regarding equity, diversity, intersectionality, and ableism.
Contact Gerry Altamirano: firstname.lastname@example.org
Gerry Altamirano, Tony Delisle
Tony Delisle 00:00
Hello everyone, and I’m very excited to bring you this podcast, we’re going to be talking about issues in this podcast that are going to really set the stage for some of the discussions that we’ll have in some of our episodes regarding equity, diversity, disability, intersectionality, ableism. There’s so much that is going on in these areas that it’s important for us to learn as much as we can, and to do better. The independent living movement has been involved with these areas and issues and aspects and conversations for quite a long time. In spring 2020, and into June, these issues really got amplified due to the police brutality on people who are Black, and it really culminated with George Floyd. The amplification and attention that is going on nowadays into these issue areas, and how it impacts the independent living movement and philosophy is something that is very important for us to really understand know where we’ve been know where we are, know where we’re going. Hello, everyone, and welcome back to another episode of The Independent Life. I am very excited about today’s episode. And in this interview, we talk with Jerry Altamirano. He’s the outgoing Assistant Dean at the University of Florida, Dean of Student Affairs and director of the Disability Resource Center, and we have a conversation with him that really unpacks a lot of the terms and concepts that are used in having conversations that are regarding equity, diversity, intersectionality, he really does an excellent job of setting the stage of what this conversation looks like what the social cultural normative, added today about disability, from his perspective are, how do we impact those social cultural normative attitudes as people with disabilities, what we can do as people with disabilities, to protect ourselves from those negative social, cultural and normative attitudes, and how to really live a meaningful and happy life, despite and perhaps does not be in the world that we would want it to be, but certainly a world that we can help to impact and shape. But it starts with us. So I really look forward to you hearing this interview. And very excited.
Gerry Altamirano 02:26
Sure, thank you so much for inviting me to speak with you today. Tony, always appreciate our chats. Man, my name is a little bit hard to say my name is actually Geraldo Altamirano. But if you can’t roll your R’s, you can call me Jerry. I currently do serve as the Assistant Dean and Director of the Disability Resource Center at the University of Florida. However, I will be transitioning from my role in the New Year in 2021. You know, I feel like it’s a time for new beginnings and new opportunities. So I’m going to explore a career in diversity consulting with an amazing firm called tangible developments where all I’ll lead sort of inclusion strategy, so really continuing my work with an advancing access and equity initiatives within higher education and broadening that into other organizations, and the nonprofit public and private sector as well. So, um, that’s a little bit about my sort of professional identity. I am a first generation Mexican American queer Latinx, ChicanX disability ally coconspirator, I would describe myself as. Originally from Texas and have had a sort of a career in interrogating social inequities and working towards advancing opportunities for historically underserved and oppressed groups. That’s how I would describe sort of myself. So it’s starting out from teaching first grade and and working with dual language Spanish speaking students then pursuing sort of Graduate Studies in rehabilitation clinical counseling, and working with folks in the supported employment sector helping folks with disabilities acquire gainful employment, doing evaluations of and then moving into sort of higher education administration within Disability Services. So previously worked at Texas State University where I am predominantly worked with Latin ex Hispanic community, and helping students understand, employability and understand how their disability may impact their their, their engagement with with academics and then and then post grad as well. And then most recently moved to Gainesville back in 2017, to to work at UF and it’s been fantastic here. I love my experience. There’s so many brilliant students and that’s where I was able to connect with CIL and I really believe in disability communities across sort of areas working in partnership, so whether it’s higher education and in the Gainesville community and or other areas. So that’s how you and I sort of got connected. So that’s a little bit briefly about me. And again, I’m excited to to speak with you today.
Tony Delisle 05:19
Well, your experience explains why you are so wise. Yes, we did meet through you coming on in 2017, the University of Florida, the Disability Resource Center there, we’re gonna provide information and links in our show notes to what they’re all about. And the wonderful things that they’re up to, the staff there is amazing. You work with a great team, Cypress Hall, obviously very innovative residential hall that everyone needs to go learn more about. The Disability Resource Center, I believe at the University of Florida course, I’m biased, as a gold standard out there. And Jerry, so yes, coming from the University of Florida, myself over here to the Center for Independent Living, I did how already know many of the people there that the Resource Center before you got there, the center, before I got here, already had a relationship with the DRC. So this relationship was here before you and I got here. And we really I think, have helped to build off of that. And I remember when you first got here, and I would, I think our first experiences were largely, you know, we would show up to the same events together, you would have events sponsored by the DRC, there, sometimes I would be invited in to speak or you know, those kind of things. And, and that was great. And then you approached me and said, I want to come to the center there, Tony and take a tour and see what it’s all about there. And I was really happy to hear that. And you came over here and we did a tour and you were just so present and authentic. One of the things that I really took away from that conversation among many of the other things is there was a moment there where you you spoke to me with a very raw conviction and heart about wanting to serve the community. And kind of like as you’re saying, kind of leverage even academic resources, other community based resources to develop the synergy to solve a lot of the difficult issues out there. And I want to acknowledge you for that, like it was like your heart was really speaking. And I really connected with that. A year or two after that passes. And we’re again, you know, kind of here and there seeing each other at events, and we happen to recruit you onto our board, and you’ve been serving on the board of directors for the Center for over the last year. So bonus, we get to, you know, have your brilliant wisdom here to be brought to bear on some of the things that we do here at our center, and opportunity for Tony to have more conversations with Jerry and learn more and be a better person through those kinds of experiences. Then, this past spring, in May and June, a lot of the events of the you know that we’re going on, that we’re really pushing to the forefront through the police brutality of people really brought to the forefront, and amplified a lot of the things that we’d already been talking about, you know, in terms of Equity, and Diversity and disability, and all these other kinds of things really was highlighted. So due to that amplification, the Independent Living network, started a workgroup, an organic workgroup, volunteer base, started meeting bi weekly to really take a look at where we’ve been, where we are, where we want to go in terms of equity, diversity, intersectionality, and all these things that are so very important. And we need to take action about not just give lip service to and we’ve been meeting, you know, since basically end of June, July, and having conversations and you’ve shown up in these conversations, and have just dropped pearls of wisdom that has really helped to guide our efforts in this workgroup and the lens that we’re working through to really reflect and research a lot of these areas so we can learn and do better. In all of that work. There’s a lot of terms, there’s a lot of context in which conversations are have, there’s a lot of conceptual frameworks around this discussion that’s had, I was wondering if you can help us unpack for many people that might not be around this conversation, or new to this conversation. Or even that, you know, for myself, I’ve been around this conversation for a while, but I’m still continuing to learn and have a long way to go myself in learning a lot of these things that I think are just fundamental to be in the conversation. So I was wondering if you could help us you know, unpack, you know, some of the things that we need to know, in order to have a meaningful, authentic and real conversation that’s going to help us learn and help us be better.
Gerry Altamirano 09:29
Sure thing. Yeah, I think it’s really important to sort of zoom out and really, and really understand what it is that we’re talking about. Think, you know, diversity, equity inclusion, these terms are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same. They don’t mean the same thing. Right? Um, so there’s always this really great analogy that I that I like to use and so diversity asked who is sitting at the table, right? Whereas equity asks who is trying to get a seat at the table but cannot. Meanwhile, inclusion asks whether everyone sitting at a table has had a chance to be heard. And finally, Justice asked whose ideas will be taken more or less seriously, because of who is represented at the table. So justice really means is more into power dynamics and and these these isms sort of that exist social stratification that puts people in different hierarchies, right. But diversity work has to connect race consciousness, which is an awareness that race has a significance in shaping people’s life chances, which includes our access to opportunities, resources, and decision making, right? So diversity means really seen everybody for who they are. racially, they’re their disability identity, perhaps, or gender, and sexual identities as well. So diversity really asks us to recognize the individualism of each person. Because we know that our social identities and how we are sort of situated politically, socially impact our opportunities to engage in certain spaces and receive access to resources, I think for for you and I, who do work specifically with, with disabled communities, equity is really important, right? equity, equity, situates, the reality that we are born at different starting lines, and our abilities and our access is not equal, right. So equity centers the unique needs of every individual. And, and understands that, you know, someone might need a certain adaptive technology to be able to, to engage in a way that that works for them. And, and, and whereas somebody else may not need that adaptive technology, right. So I think folks often get stuck in the idea that equal is what we should be based basing our work on, or equality is what we should be basing our work on or, or our decisions when it comes to, you know, social progress. But the idea of equality is moreso of a fallacy, because we know that we’re not equal in the sense that we don’t have access to the same resources. You know, our social and political conditions are different. generational wealth is different. Um, so we are equal in the sense in the sense that we all possess an inherent human integrity and value and dignity that that that we must uphold. But, but our access to, to resources or to engage in certain spaces is not equal. So that’s why we have to sort of situate and contextualize equity. And in doing that, we have to understand that things don’t exist in a vacuum. Right? There’s a there’s a, there’s a historical and political story around everything. And so that means really us asking really critical questions and interrogating Why is is that that we do the things that we do and, and and what are things that we’re sort of replicating and reproducing that are rooted in something really harmful? Yeah.
Tony Delisle 13:42
So you said a lot there. I’m trying to take notes as you speak here. One of the things I wanted to ask you, I’m going to go back to the table. What if, you know, a group or a person is not at the table? Seems as though the people at the table have the power to invite people to the table? How do people who don’t have that power or influence or know the people at the table get invited to the table when they don’t even know the people at the table?
Gerry Altamirano 14:09
That’s right, yeah, that’s exactly right. So that it takes it takes folks who are in positions of power, takes folks who recognize our privilege to to yield their privilege and, and invite others to the table. Right. And through that, that means taking a taking a step back, and relinquishing a little bit of control. That’s the thing about equity work, right. In order for us to be equitable, you have to give something up or somebody has to give something up. that’s a that’s a piece that we don’t often connect. Um, so I mean, just like Thanksgiving dinner or or any sort of celebration, right. The more people you invite to the table, the more you have to sort of ration and and divide the pie. But that’s what makes it right. But it takes folks in positions of power to recognize, hey, I don’t know if I should be really leading this space that is connected to enhancing services for for Black folks in my community, when I’m not, I’m not African American, or identify as Black and I don’t have sort of that experiential knowledge. So let me invite somebody to help lead this initiative, right? Someone who, who, who understands that. And so, yes, everybody, especially, especially as I think we are the most, we and I, I speaking, we in the collective You and I, who engage in this sort of disability advocacy work, inclusion work, and others, like us, who, um, something within us, there’s this sort of sense of service leadership or do good or wanting to sort of impact social change, right? Something whether we’re personally connected to having a disability or know someone who has a disability or, or any other sort of marginalized identity, or like myself, and am a member of another oppressed group, right. Um, we sort of want to engage in this work, but we’re not above falling into this sort of same same trap of not seeing how we also have privileges and how we may have, there’s just so much oversight into, into how we approach our equity work, right. Um, I think I think folks have, like, for example, people in healthcare fields, who have this sort of altruism, our sense of doing good to other for others, sometimes blocks, our ability to accept the possibility that we have internalized biases, and prejudices that impact how we view others and ultimately impact our job. Right. So I, I have to constantly interrogate and check myself, and I encourage others who do this equity work, inclusion work to do the same is to, we often believe that because we’re sort of engaged and part of this, this effort that we are maybe impervious to, to having biases, are our internalized really harmful ideas about other groups, right, whether it’s, you know, anti-Black racism, or, or even ableism or or, or an approach to disability inclusion, that that is sort of rooted in something that’s more harmful, like, like charity work, or sort of this sympathy approach to our work, right? So there’s, there’s just a lot of caution that we have to have, and, and interrogating, why are we doing the things that we do? And how can I do it in the most in the way that that maintains the human dignity of the people that I that I’m that I’m serving and working in community with? And also how am I interrupting the the reproduction of oppressive practices or policies or bureaucracies in the work that I do? That’s so tough, especially for for us in this in this work.
Tony Delisle 18:32
Sure. So in going along with that, in self interrogation, you know, goes back to the question, so I am at a table, I do come from the health field, I would like to believe… No, no, no, I’m not taking it as defensively at all I’m checking all the boxes are confirming what you said like and very altruistic and lead with my heart often recognize I have these blind spots. And so who is it I’m not inviting to the table, that I should be inviting to the table thinking I am inviting all the right people and you know, things and everything else like out there, I find I do have to interrogate myself as you put it. For me, it involves being very conscious of my thoughts and stepping out of my stream of thoughts. And being an observer of those thoughts and listening to those thoughts and not necessarily being attached to those thoughts in terms of thinking I am those thoughts, I am observing those thoughts at this point. And for me, it’s a bit of a mindfulness approach to it, but also a big check your ego approach, you know, to think that, you know it all, I’ve arrived, I’ve got this, you know, into me, that could be the most insidious thing that’s inhibiting growth is those of us that are, you know, doing this thing, but thinking that like we’ve arrived to a destination, an awareness that we got this and therefore don’t have these blind spots, but we do. To me, so it’s part mindfulness, but also ego checking, big time. And that is hard to do. It’s humbling, you got to be vulnerable, you’re facing some fears, and having to then look at an examine to like, what are the stories I’ve been telling myself about myself, or others, or the way the you know, life is or society is, and really kind of challenge those stories? Where do those stories narratives come from? You know, and so, so, so I’m gonna ask you, what is some of the methods you use to interrogate yourself to make sure that you know, you’re also kind of being aware of your own blind spots that you might have?
Gerry Altamirano 20:38
Yeah. I really appreciate this conversation, Tony, because it’s so easy to right, we’re all human, we’re all shaped by the same social and political conditions, right? So if I’m shaped in a world that is racist, and ableist then guess what, I will internalize prejudices and biases that are abliest and racist. And I have to. And so that’s how I check my ego, right is knowing that. Well, you know, some people are like, Well, I’m not I’m not racist, or I’m not ablist. But we, we are, we are in this, this, um, we’re in the same environment, right? And, and it’s, and it’s natural to sort of adopt these ideas, either, you know, subconsciously or consciously and then enact them. So, I check myself, my ego by one, surrounding myself with really smart people, right? surrounding myself with people who challenge my thinking. There’s this saying, It relates to fitness, and you’re in that that health world today, so maybe you’ve heard it, but I think it’s something like, if you’re the most in shape person in this gym, then maybe you’re in the wrong gym or something like that. It’s along those lines. Yeah, yeah. Right, you’ve sort of mastered or you think that you’re, you’ve figured it all out. And you’re in the wrong space, you’re now you’re in an echo chamber, or you’re right, you’re like being there because people sort of exalt you, but maybe you need to enter different spaces. Right? Um, and also being community with a lot of different groups, because you might, you know, have a lot of knowledge in a certain space. Like, for example, me Who, who I work with college students with disabilities. College students with disabilities are not the the monolith of the disability community right at large. They’re there, they don’t represent everybody in the disability community. In fact, they represent some of the most privileged folks with disabilities. So if I’m not engaged in with the communities, like those involved with CIL, then then my, my concept of Disability Justice and disability inclusion is distorted and completely warped by by the the constituents that I serve and those that aren’t in community with now, right? Because while they’re thinking about, oh, well, the importance of it acts as an accommodation for physics or an Orgo Chem 2 exam. disabled person, and the CIO community is thinking about how am I going to pay my light bill? Right. So So there there, there are so many different privileges and and access points within each of our groups, right. And so I think having a really global perspective of, of what justice looks like, involves us equity workers, inclusion workers, however, I describe ourselves being a part of all of these different communities and understanding how other social structures and structures and isms impact the work that we do. Right.
Tony Delisle 24:18
So going back to your isms, right there you throughout ableism, I was wondering if you could define for us what ableism is.
Gerry Altamirano 24:24
I like I like sort of illustrating a picture, right? Because I’ve heard folks, folks sometimes get get caught up in in definitions there, which I think are sometimes even just more harmful. Yeah, um, because then then then we’re sort of trying to hold true to a concept and not the connection to that lived impact, right. So I can describe how ableism impacts people. And I think that’s what a lot of people can understand the most because sometimes when we get caught up isms like racism, sexism, classism, all of these isms. And people are like, well, I don’t really know what that means I can’t really define it. And then someone comes in and gives you a definition. And like, well, I still don’t really know. But we are impacts people, right? That’s what’s important. And so ableism impacts folks, by disabled folks, specifically, by creating a society or an environment that, that caters to a default to a certain embodiment, right, a certain lived experience that can easily navigate physical technological spaces. Without sort of a second thought, right. And so it’s, it’s, it’s a devaluation of disabled bodies, whom are maybe just divergent in their embodiment, and not necessarily unable, or don’t have the capacity to, to produce or to perform or to, or to participate in a certain space. But the environment itself is not created for them. It’s not, it’s not considering their diverse embodiment. And therefore defaults to the dominant group, which is the temporarily abled body folks are this this norm, right. And so what happens is that when there is a person with a disability, let’s say a chair user, I’m in an environment where there are no ramps, or there are no us elevators to help them navigate a building, the environment creates the disabling effects of their impairment of their embodiment. And when you exist in a, in a society that sort of defaults and favors, um, the dominant group, those that aren’t chair users, then we fail to, to intentionally design spaces for, for the variation and, and the nuance of so many different people. Right, so then we leave them out, we exclude them. And through that other things happen, right? So we, we sort of become our mirror our attitudes about people, and our ideologies about life, and who has value and who doesn’t become mirrored, and reproduce in our physical spaces and our policies and practices, right? And then, and then our rules of Oh, well, you have to be physically present at work, or you have to, and that who does that exclude right? People who aren’t able to physically transport themselves or who can work remotely and do their job, but so so all of these, these phenomenon that happened are because of the the exclusion of the validation of disabled folks.
Tony Delisle 28:18
So so given, you know, what you said there about how, you know, ableism can really help shape the paradigm of how, like a society may view people with disabilities. And there’s other I’m sure, intersecting forces that are doing the same thing. How would you Gerry describe from your own perspective and lived experiences the social cultural normative attitudes that society has about disability if you had to like your try to explain what you think that is, from your point of view?
Gerry Altamirano 28:55
I mean I think I don’t I don’t even have to philosophically take you through a through my rabbit hole of that, I think, I think we just have to look at at the facts, right. And the facts are that there is such a low employment rate of people with disabilities, right? The facts are that 50% of folks that are killed by excessive police force are people with disabilities who are also Black, right? There. The facts are that people with disabilities often have to jump through so many bureaucratic hoops to to receive services or funds by the government, right. So the sociocultural implications of how we treat people are there or how we treat disabled people specifically are visible. Yeah, right. Yeah, so that, that society does not value Yeah, um, folks who exist differently, right? And that’s that’s what it is. And that really ties into that I think you maybe you’ll you’ll ask me eventually, how to other sort of isms you mentioned earlier intersect with this. And it goes, it goes down to what does society value right? So we’re saying we’re asking ourselves, well, society does not value disabled people. Why? What does society value? Well, ask ourselves, what do we value look at? Let’s look at our, our current, social political interest. We value money, revalue economy, we look, we value production, that’s what our society values and that’s what our society cares about. That’s why folks are in such a rush to return to quote, unquote, normalcy, to reopen businesses and to reopen schools, regardless of what the impact is on human lives. Right? Knowing that over 200,000 folks have died from COVID-19,
Tony Delisle 30:58
300,000 as of now.
Gerry Altamirano 31:02
Again, knowing the facts, we say, Yep, that’s fine, we still need to return to business because we want to make money. So there has to be this other analysis into Well, why do our disabled people, undervalued or? Well, because of capitalism, because capitalism consumes our interest in our priorities, we want to make money. And there’s this belief that, well, folks with disabilities aren’t able to produce as much or able to work as much and and that’s, that’s the most insidious thing of it all.
Tony Delisle 31:38
Yeah, we find that all the time.
Gerry Altamirano 31:40
Because it suggests that in order for you to have value as a human being, in order for you, to be important to our larger society, you have to be able to make money, or produce or, or, right, that’s what they care is your your, your value is equated to, to your to your output. There’s a lot of isms and systems of oppression that we have to consider as we think about the liberation of oppressed groups of advancing disability rights of events, advancing civil rights, right? Because if we fail to, we don’t really dig deep and understand how, how these these structures impact and sort of reproduce and maintain the oppression of people with disabilities, right, and continue to keep them down, because we’re only talking about disability inclusion, and we’re not sort of invoking and analysis of capitalism or racism, sexism, as we’re thinking about disability inclusion, there’s a lot of things that are left unexamined, that does more harm than good.
Tony Delisle 32:53
Absolutely. And go into those values. It’s, it’s interesting to when capitalistic private for profit, free market does do innovations, because they’re kind of required to make sure they’re accessible for all people disabilities, we find that these kind of universally designed, you know, changes are something other people without disabilities really want as well, and often sometimes can help their bottom line out. That’s one, but to go into your point, you know, valuing, you know, who are we as a country? And what do we value? I think there’s also a kind of contradiction or conflict between the ideals of a meritocracy, you know, the rugged individualism, you know, you got to pick yourself up from your own bootstraps. And then there’s also these other ideals that talk about the Commonwealth, and the common good, you know, of our country. And so there’s a lot of that said with that, too. And so I almost feel like there’s a moral contradiction in there somewhere. And so I don’t know if that is also kind of like something where we can look at, you know, how do people with disabilities really thread that narrative to where we can maybe create a society that’s more just. And also, at the same time, people as individuals, you know, have that ability to fulfill their fullest potential live their lives in, you know, to whatever extent possible, they would want to, I don’t know if you have some thoughts on like, you know, where people with disabilities can really work to thread the needle there in terms of carving out a life or at least advocating for a system that does some of those kinds of things. If you think that is a good way.
Gerry Altamirano 34:35
Yeah. So many deep questions Tony. I think we are so stuck in this matrix that sort of decides what we value right? Not only even our larger social system or our country, but even ourselves, right? Because I think you know, James James Baldwin talks about the law issues with racism in America or is a reflection of the inner turmoil of the individual. Right? And so if our larger country beliefs are only values production, you know, meritocracy, like you mentioned, what what do we individually value? I think sometimes we believe that we believe the hype, we drink the kool aid, and we work towards that, that goal. And and even sometimes, people from marginalized groups oppressed groups to say, Well folks, buy into that narrative, and then internalize these really harmful ideas about themselves and strive for this illusion, which is it’s, it’s, it’s a, it’s an illusion that we keep investing, and it’s not real, it’s not real, this idea that in order to be happy, or in order to be fulfilled, you have to be so successful and have everything that you need and be self sufficient. And that doesn’t always bring happiness. And I think when society tries to push people towards this idea of independence, self sufficiency, it fails to really understand what is it that really brings people happiness, and that’s community. And that’s, that’s been with your loved ones and finding purpose outside of your, your job, right? I think, not to get too, too radical, but not everybody needs to work not ever I mean, I believe in leisure and and that, you know, we’ve evolved as a species so much that these technological advancements have allowed us to not have to, you know, have a warehouse of workers or these products, because there’s, there’s machines that do that now, right? So that so we shouldn’t be allowed to engage in more leisure and more pleasure and in rest, rest is radical. But we don’t allow ourselves to because we, but we bought into the idea, and we’re invested in the illusion that we must continue to produce, produce, produce produce, right? We must work, work, work, work work, right? To the point that we almost feel guilty when we’re not, right. We like this sort of dissonance and an uneasiness right. Yeah, when you’re just sitting, and just just breathing and existing, right. And so I think that how disabled folks can and other communities can resist sort of this, sort of use our bodies as as political resistance to this pressure of capitalism, more pressure of production and meritocracy, is to be, and that’d be enough and to find fulfillment and community with within the people that we love. And that in itself is something right. And I think that that’s what I appreciate the most about disability analysis about our place in the world, is that it forces us to, to challenge this superhuman hyper producer, independent superhuman fallacy that we’ve been bought into, right that we want to sort of enhance everything about us, you know, take this new sort of espresso shot that gives you four times caffeine to be able to work more or, you know, all of these to be able to put in or move your eight hour day and to 10 hour, you know, all these things that are harmful to our bodies and to deteriorate us really, and don’t, don’t bring happiness at all. But I think the most insidious part is that we bought into the idea that working, working working brings happiness, so almost almost as if it’s our only way to feel like we have purpose. And that’s not true. That’s not true. Yeah, there’s this really awesome video with Judith Butler and disability activist her last name is Taylor. The Unexamined Life, right, is titled. They talk about how having a disability interrupts this idea of self sufficiency, because it’s not true, we need other people, right? And so, having needing a caregiver or needing needing someone to, you know, help you with your daily activities, or, or what have you, or to read a document or anything, is the most accepting that right, is the most human thing that we can do. Because we, we cannot exist without having somebody to support us or and not even in like the moral and psychological sense but but as a human species, we’re social. So So this, this push this constant push to be independent and to self produce and self sustain is sort of antithetical to the idea of, of humanity, right? And that’s why we see a lot of changes in mental health and happiness and and how people sort of gauge their own self efficacy because It’s like the self reliance is is the goal? And I don’t believe it is. So going back to your question, how do we challenge this, the more that we can rely on others, and be interdependent, that would be the goal, the more that we can build co Ops, and hey, Tony, you grow your carrots in your garden, and I’ll grow the tomatoes. And we’ll share that the more we build those kind of spaces, where we rely on each other, that’s how we resist.
Tony Delisle 40:45
You’ve pretty much answered our, our closing question, there like, what do you think about independent independence, and again, I learned so much from you every time you share with us and and, you know, as I’ve shared with you before, in talking about this, Stephen Covey, Seven Habits of Highly Successful People does talk about this, he talks about, you know, the lowest form is dependent, of being the next the highest would be independence, but the highest is interdependence with one another, that symbiotic we can do more, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. And from an evolutionary standpoint, and when they examine the evolution of human beings, and I love what you say about can we just be human beings, not human doings, right. And so I think it goes to your point of like, just be in the present moment and exist, and there’s a lot of fulfillment there. And so, from an evolutionary standpoint, many people point to the fact that we are wired, evolutionarily to work together, because that is the way we survived. We are not the strongest animal out there, we are not the most, someone’s even say, not the smartest, they throw us out there, you know, in the elements and see how long by ourselves, we will survive, we won’t, we need each other, we’re wired to belong to one another. And now, you know, after 1000s of years of evolution, here we are, we still these primal needs, the human brain hasn’t evolved since many of those times. And so we still have this need for connection. For belonging, the biggest fear we have is rejection, and our biggest need is acceptance. And so I think there’s so much that you said there that goes towards what you say to is fulfillment, you know, how many people do you know, that are quite wealthy materialistically have the, you know, alphabet soup after their name, the athletic trophies or accolade, and the greatest social networks and everything else out there, but when you get to know them, they’re not happy, they’re not fulfilled? You know, society’s told us, you know, we need to accomplish these things in order to be successful value, but and one of the things that we’re aiming to do with this podcast is to really what does it mean to be the best version of yourselves? What does fulfillment look like to you? What does a meaningful life look like to you? You know, how can you, you know, achieve that? What does it really mean? Are you buying into this narrative, like you’re saying, that society that says that this was what it is, but when we look at, you know, your happiness tends to be something that deep happiness, not the superficial pleasure, kind of happiness, but the authentic joy, happiness, peace, and altruism service to others, is what a lot of people reported on living a fulfilled life. There’s a country out there that instead of a gross domestic product, they have a gross domestic happiness scale, throughout the day with that country, but anyways, I really appreciate you, you know, kind of really illuminating those things there. So, you know, this leads me to that asking you, if you had to talk about, you know, how the what would, you know, ideal, you know, social cultural narrative be about people with disabilities, you know, if we were working towards trying to really have an impact on what that socio cultural narrative is now, given what it is, you know, has been, where we were, where we are today, where would you want to see us really, like move towards impact grow to be if you had almost explained the utopian, you know, is kind of way that, you know, society views and treats and, and really, you know, sees people with disabilities?
Gerry Altamirano 44:17
Yeah. Um, it’s tough, because I think that that sort of, Northstar is always sort of shifting. I think, I think I think our needs shift a lot. Right. And, and I think more so than, and it’s tough, right? Because I think, again, those of us who do who do this inclusion work, I can’t help but feel that part of it. Part of our work, or sorry, part of our essence, is sort of, especially me because I’m a romantic. I am a renaissance man, and I’m a romantic and I have to say Often check my naivete, right. And this sort of delusional optimism, right? That keeps sometimes focus on wanting to change the hearts and minds, right? And sort of Yes, build this new socio cultural narrative or change, change society’s interpretation of certain groups, right? And we know historically that that doesn’t always work, right? So we can pass laws and the ADA or we can, we can work in official ways, right? And people will still not change their hearts and minds. And the narrative doesn’t shift. And people continue to suffer and struggle. So I think more importantly, is how can we constantly connect this sort of theorizing of Gosh, what would the world look like, without these isms? Or to the struggle, we have to connect it to the struggle? Because as you and I sit here and have this, this really sort of introspective and philosophic conversation, there’s disabled folks out there without, you know, food on their table, who are underemployed, and they’re not engaging in these sort of meta conversations. They they want to eat, they want to work, they want to have their basic needs met. Right. So there’s also that conundrum is, is ensuring that we’re always connecting our theorizing, and our ideas of possibility and future into the struggle to the currents of what’s going on on the ground? And how can we make micro changes that will impact the larger system? Right? So how can we impact policies and equitable move towards more equitable allocation of resources within our local or local government? And in our larger government? That’s, I think more of the questions that we need to ask ourselves, because to be frank, as I get older, and move towards more into more, the spaces that champion diversity and inclusion differently. The mirage sometimes stays the same, right? And that we talk about the feel good piece, but the structure does not. And to be to be honest, sometimes I become so cynical that I’m like, Well, you know what, I don’t care if people value me for being queer and brown, or let Latinx I just want to be treated with human dignity. Right? That’s it? Yeah. So and I’m sure you know, then disabled folks. Similarly, you know, some might be like, well, that might be nice if they embrace me and affirm my identities and celebrate my diverse embodiments. But I just want to give them dignity, right? So I think connecting that and pushing one, galvanizing our disability community to know that they have power, and then they have expertise to shift and shape the world as important, right, educating and helping our people, our most oppressed groups, learn how to read the world and interrogate these systems, right? How we should not accept things to be we’ve, we’ve bought into this idea of scarcity. We…
Tony Delisle 48:03
Big scarcity mindset out there.
Gerry Altamirano 48:06
Exactly. So challenging that relying on one another, finding our political voice and using our bodies as political tools. That’s I think more important in changing access and equity now, then then sort of theorizing a new idea of how people should should be regarded because, you know, history tells us that that that doesn’t always work. No we can we can, we can champion this equality chant and take to the streets, but sometimes folks will keep believing what they want. So let’s change our structure to make things more equitable so that we can all thrive and not just survive.
Tony Delisle 48:45
So Gerry, going to your equity points and and changing hearts in the area I you know, I’ve been working in and putting so much of my research and efforts and heart myself is trying to correct the disparities inequities that exists, whether it’s health, it was primarily health health outcomes, trying to get people to live longer, less susceptible to chronic disease and quality of life or big outcomes, education, getting kids, you know, graduating youth, teens graduated from high school, that’s a big effort here, we do have an employment services program that’s trying to close the gap between the two to three times unemployment rate that’s seen out there, the housing, the transportation, and Centers for Independent Living are really working hard to close those equity gaps. But when I examine you know, the literature in the areas that again, we have so far to go, these gaps are so wide, but in areas where marginalized groups have had those gaps, shortened or equal, there’s still disparity. So for example, if you know a non white person who got their doctoral degree and is at a high socio economic class, and has these certain health behaviors, and someone who is white, doesn’t have a disability has the same health behavior, same sexual economics if controlling for all these variables, the white person is still likely to live longer. The person who is not white, who is has a doctoral degree and has a high socioeconomic status has the same infant mortality rates as some a white woman who graduated high school. And so like even when we control for these equity of outcomes is looking like that still sometimes not enough to close the gaps into these other areas and many of the researchers point towards, well, they’re, you know, experiencing these other kinds of pressures, stigmas, onslaught of perpetual and consistent, you know, social pressures that are leading to having higher blood pressure and having all these other kinds of things, you know, and then shorter lives. That, to me points towards, this may be a issue of the heart, that the people’s attitudes and beliefs of the narratives that they’ve bought into are culminating in this collective that’s really damaging people. And education is needed, but not sufficient. And so how do we change hearts? But, you know, that’s such a complicated thing, you know, like will we ever fully arrive maybe to that day. So for me, what do we have control over? And what do we not have control over is a very important compass in my life to help guide me in doing things. There’s a quote out there that says, fear of stigma, is part of the problem of stigma, our fear, and for me, I take that is at an individual level, what I have control over is my fear of how other people see me, society sees me all these other pressures that are coming in, generates a more elevated you know system and stress on me. But my fear that I have, because of the stigma or these pressures, is something I can manage and cope with and address and through vulnerability and humility. And then courage ability to act even though you have those fears is something I do have control over. So if I wait for the day that society gets its attitudes and beliefs about disabilities, right to be happy, and free and peace, good luck, man. Again, I think this is this is an this is an infinite thing. So how do I cultivate this sense of inner peace? acceptance, not in surrendering, like, give up the white flag, but like to the isness of this, that is, is out there? So at an individual level, what do you recommend to people in order to live that meaningful, happy, you know, kind of life given that, you know, likely, in our lifetimes, the social cultural narratives won’t change to the utopian perhaps way that’s out there? What do we do as individuals to help us cope in a healthy way?
Gerry Altamirano 52:33
There’s this really great book by Adrian Marie Brown, it’s called Pleasure Activism. And it says that, once we engage in pleasure and love, we become less willing to accept conditions of oppression. Right? So So once you’re, you’re, you’re in community, and you find things that make you happy, and you’re, you’re embraced by people who love you, but love you and see you not the performance, not the production piece, is not anything that you’re sort of doing. Like our when we put on our suits and go to work or, or whatever, but you. You become less willing to, and you become less willing to accept the pressure, but you become less willing to see others who you love or communities that you love, also be subjugated to to violence and to harm. So I would say that similar to how communities of color, you know, black folks, Latin ex folks have survived oppression for centuries, right? How do we ask black folks in our country who have who have survived violence and racism and, and thrive and experienced joy in the face of adversity? Through through community? Right? That’s powerful. So that’s one of the biggest things that I wanted to do in my time here at UF is to create spaces where students with disabilities can be in community with one another, and start to sort of interrogate their assumptions about ability and their internalized ableism. And who has value and who doesn’t and build community around their identity and their group, just to celebrate one another, right? And I think that that’s powerful. And it does something to you, right? Similarly, when I’m in community with a lot of Latinx folks or in queer folks, it’s healing. I don’t know if we do that enough, or we frame that enough as as important in disabled communities, because there’s just so many other priorities, right? It’s like those basic needs pieces, and food, housing, all these things, and then we don’t get to that other part. And just by virtue of, you know, you might be the only person with a unique diagnoses or impairment in your family. And so then you don’t have others like you who sort of empathize and can understand your lived experience and so that doesn’t ever happen there. So transforming our spaces To embrace sort of this, this radical love, I think is a way to, one heal, and to resist this constant force of oppression that wants to destroy us and keep us out.
Tony Delisle 55:14
So a good way to shield us from the negative impacts of the stigmas and normative attitudes is each other.
Gerry Altamirano 55:21
And love, abundant love.
Tony Delisle 55:24
Unconditional love is a very tall calling for us. And I think it’s one that we’re meant to really try to work to achieve and embrace in our life. And that’s where again, I think it really is a hard issue because I really like what you said about being in those circles where they see you and not the facade of you. Again, this goes back to ego who is who is it we’re presenting out to the world? Yeah, and it’s usually the superficial ality, you know, kind of things, but who are, you know, the you the self. And it’s usually a false solidity of a self, a subjective self. A self that’s based on all kinds of stories that need to be examined. Yeah, and perhaps rewritten. So I really love what you say about like, when people can really see you. And the real you, and there’s a lot there of what what is the real you, you know, so I love having those kind of thoughts and conversations. So thank you for bringing that up as well. You know, and as you’re saying this, you know, and so, you know, I am privileged to be able to be in a space right now to have this conversation. And I realized that, you know, kind of, as you said, mentioned earlier, if I’m struggling to meet my concrete needs, you know, of safety, you know, security, you know, where’s my next meal coming from? Do I have a roof over my head? How am I able to care for others that are, you know, in my charge, and I can’t do those kinds of things. We put on a seminar, kind of a talk for people with disabilities, our consumers. And the topic was, you know, intersectionality, and you’re talking about micro macro aggressions, and when we advertise it, and no one came. And I asked people, you know, like, I yeah, we had this thing was to kind of, it’s like, Man, I’m just trying to make it, I’m just trying to survive the day. So I really appreciate what you said, I almost see it as a kind of a Maslow hierarchy kind of thing. So like, once we can meet a lot of these different kind of concrete needs. The next is sense of belongingness, you know, that’s in there. And then it works towards self actualization. And, and that’s self actualization, through being able to have your needs met, to feeling a sense of belongingness to a group is that fulfillment and abundance in life and unconditional love is there. And Maslow says that self actualized people are free of the good opinion of others, free of the good opinion of others. And I think that goes back to kind of what you’re saying about like, perhaps our egos, and those kind of things, and, you know, having conversations that might challenge our ego challenge our identity, especially if that’s who we think we are, you know, these kind of things. I’m setting up a question here to say that in all things that go into having conversations about diversity, and race and equality and justice, there can be a lot of reservations on people because it can make people feel uncomfortable, and going into those spaces. And again, I’m tying this back to our identity and perhaps egos being threatened and challenging our our stories and our narratives and our perspectives and our way of thinking. How do we enter into those conversations with people that, and I’m including myself in here that can be, let’s just say fragile? You know, and there’s a fragility among some of us in having these conversations, who want to do the right thing, but are scared to say the wrong thing. What should we do, you know, in terms of meeting people, where they’re at having those conversations, but also knowing that we need to feel uncomfortable, that’s where the growth happens. So what do you think about you know, trying to make the discussion, one that calls everybody in instead of out?
Gerry Altamirano 59:00
You know, I think that different groups have different different strokes for different folks, right? And you we all have things that we need to work through. Right? I think that we sometimes want to approach diversity conversations from, intersectionality conversations with let’s get everybody together and let’s just unpack ourselves. Maybe we can work towards that but maybe that doesn’t start like that. Right? Maybe it’s it’s you pull in three other friends who are in a similar identity as you and saying, Hey, you know, I’ve been thinking about, you know, my role with disability or my role in equity work and, and I’d love to just for us to talk and want to hear your perspective. Because then it’s, it’s less also, one less taxing and harmful, often on the most depressed person because they’re the ones doing the educating. They’re the ones sort of leading the discussion and sort of helping the most privileged I understand how it impacts them. Right? So I think there’s a lot of self work that needs to happen for self reflection. It’s sort of like a smaller caucus. So I think like if we’re talking about racism work anti anti black racism, you have to have sort of white folks get together and y’all discuss your stuff and the history of white supremacy in this country and and how does it make you feel and how do you perpetuate racism and and and then saying, Okay, well, how can we be allies or co conspirators in this work? And asking communities of color? Well, what do you need from us? And how can we participate in and listening to that, and being okay with saying, We don’t need you now, maybe you won’t eat them up, or this is the ways that we need you. That’s it. So again, knowing that we’re not saviors, we’re not saving anybody. You can’t even save ourselves half the time, right? So approaching this from a place of solidarity and humility, that allows you to, to also see yourself as an oppressed person. Apollo Fairey talks about, like, what do we need in order to liberate oppressed groups, we need the oppressor to participate with the most oppressed and recognizing that there sort of liberation and salvation is dependent upon the liberation of, of those that they’re oppressing. Right, oftentimes. Same thing with like, disability work, I don’t see myself as separate from the disability community. In fact, you know, my embodiments would, you know, classify myself as as having a disability. I, you know, obviously, visibly, I’m very able bodied. And so when I approached this work, I could easily sort of frame my involvement in this work as separate from or privileged or server or doing good for others, rather than working with and listening to what is needed and being a co conspirator in the fight for justice. And I don’t see myself as separate from because I can’t. If I do, the minute I do, I’m not useful, really, you know, I have to see my freedom and liberation interconnected. And with those that I’m that I’m working in communion with.
Tony Delisle 1:02:06
You know, if you have some skin in it, yeah, you’re likely will be more of a contributor, and co conspirator.
Gerry Altamirano 1:02:12
Closing, sign off from me is that, in order for us to reach any sort of progress in equity work, we have to see ourselves as an active agent in the fight, and co conspirator in the work towards liberation.
Tony Delisle 1:02:31
Well, Gerry, you know, no way, anyone that seen this can see what I meant at the beginning, where every time like you share words and perspectives, you know, definitely challenges and expands my perspectives. And so I really appreciate you, I want to acknowledge, you know, in some of the work that we’ve done together as a recent year, you really helped to broaden my perspectives on how we approach things I know, with our workgroup, we might I’m wired to say all right, we got this group together, let’s start making you know, mission statements, visions, goals, objectives, what are our values? And you really, you know, helped us to say, well, let’s wait a minute here you all are still doing the good work, let’s let’s take some time to reflect. Everybody coming into this group is coming in from different places and different, you know, starting line so to speak and understandings and, and that was really helped us I think a lot and and, you know, your perspectives on independence. And being more about interdependence is definitely, you know, kind of a really great point of view that I think we need to in the independent living movement to really acknowledge as well and see where that place may be in the independence because it doesn’t mean that people without disabilities are interdependent, I mean, so. So that’s another place that you’ve really helped illuminate all kinds of things. And so I just want to acknowledge you, I really appreciate your mind, your heart, your spirit. So happy to have crossed paths with you and look forward to continuing these conversations. You know, knowing that you’re no matter where you go, whether you’re here in Gainesville, or to your next venture, wherever you go, it’s going to be better because Gerry was there and involved. So Gerry, thank you so much for your time. Thank you for coming. And thank you, everyone for for listening and tuning in, and we wish the best for you. And onward and upward.
Gerry Altamirano 1:04:23
Thank you. Thank you. Appreciate you, Tony.
Amy Feutz 1:04:29
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