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Tatum Tricarico, a second-year Duke Divinity student and Disability rights activist on Instagram (@blind_person_in_area)

This interview was conducted over email with Tatum Tricarico, a Duke Divinity student, by Gargi Mahadeshwar, a fourth-year undergraduate student working for the Duke Human Rights Center at the Franklin Humanities Institute. 

 

How do you view the intersection of theology and disability rights? How do you integrate activism into your studies?

I find major connections in the relationship of Disability justice and theology. Of course the Church often misses the mark, but fundamentally I believe there cannot be a fully Christian community without the impact of Disability justice. Just a few examples of these connections are how the Church emphasizes the wounded Body of Jesus Christ often referred to as the Disabled God, the idea of imago dei- that we are all created in God’s image, the church as body of Christ as a beautiful metaphor of interdependence, and sabbath practices of rest. These ideas of honoring bodies- specifically Disabled and intersectional bodies, including a rhythm of rest in our lives, and living interdependently are all deeply rooted in Disability justice. Tying these together feels extremely natural and important to me and helping the Church to find its roots in Disability justice has become one of my greatest passions.

 

What has been your experience connecting to people with an advocacy Instagram? What is your goal and how has that changed throughout your time working as an advocate?

I am constantly amazed by the community I have found on Instagram. My journey with Instagram started with following parents of Disabled kids, and I quickly realized that we as adult Disabled people should be doing the work to advocate for those in the next generation. From that point on, I followed a wide array of Disabled activists. I follow people with all different types of Disability and those with other intersectional identities that impact their Disabilities. Getting to have all of those experiences pop up in my feed has boosted my confidence as a Disabled person, offered representation in everything from work and school to relationships and sex, and taught me so much about my own history, culture, and others experiences. I often recommend people follow even just five other Disabled people so that they get a piece of that same beautiful community I have found and can learn in bite sized bits!

As an activist myself, I have had an incredible experience on Instagram. More than just finding my community I have been able to create one. I started a group on Instagram called Disability Opportunities that is exclusively Disabled people DMing any opportunity for education, work, speaking, publication, etc. directed at Disabled people that they can find. I have also created a few videos and featured many guest posts that have reached out to a huge Disabled community. Through those videos especially I have had over 75 other Disabled people in 10 plus countries featured on my page. People often share about the problems with social media, but it truly is one of the best spaces for minority groups to find their people just like I have.

 

How do you approach the intersectionality of disability rights with other social movements?

I am very committed to intersectionality in my Disability advocacy work. Sins Invalid provides a list of the 10 principals of Disability Justice and many of them focus on the importance of intersectionality, so for me it truly is not Disability justice if it is not intersectional. Disabled people fall into every minority group, and so if they are not represented the Disability justice is incomplete. I specifically pay attention to intersectionality in a few specific ways. For anyone who follows me, I recommend following at least 5 other Disabled people who have wide variety of experience. I do this by at least every few months sharing a list of other diverse Disabled accounts and platforms on my account. I also have featured 75 plus people on my page many of whom have intersectional identities. In my in person work, I intentionally make sure that any event I lead has a variety of experiences represented. When I am asked to speak somewhere and am unable to (or even if I am) I often follow up with a list of a few other amazing BIPOC and/or Queer Disabled activists I know so that their work can be amplified as well.

What have been your biggest challenges advocating for yourself and others, especially in higher education?

I have intently struggled in every aspect of higher education due to an incredible lack of inaccessibility. Often people tell me they are impressed I am in grad school as a Blind person and my response is, “You shouldn’t be impressed. It should be a given that Disabled people should be able to be in school. If it isn’t, that’s the fault of the school." And so often it is the fault of the school. I have been refused basic accommodations like a Reader, access to Braille, and assistance in transportation, all of which are guaranteed to me in the ADA. Broader than that though, classroom spaces are never set up for Disabled people. Just one of many examples is that all tests and testing strategies are written and created for people who are reading the exam with their eyes, not in Braille or audio, so even in ways that are not strictly refusal of accommodation, I am often at a huge disadvantage. This is not just a testing issue but shows up in almost all classroom settings and is not a specific accommodation that can be written into my accommodation plan. This lack of accommodation and lack of classrooms designed for Disabled and Neurodivergent bodies and minds starts in preschool and is pervasive in the education system. Even if every basic accommodation is met (which is almost never the case) we are still weeded out of the system by classrooms, tests, and work that is not set up for us.

 

What are some moments throughout your journey of advocating that have given you hope?

One of my biggest moments of hope and Disabled joy that my advocacy has brought me was last year’s Disability Pride parade that I was lucky enough to get to co-organize with two other amazing activists. It was Durham’s first Disability Pride Parade in a history of parades in other cities over the last 30 years. Because it was the first, my goal was to have 10 organizations and 100 people present, but we far exceeded that with around 25 organizations tabling, marching, and/or donating money and supplies, 400-500 marchers, around 100 spectators, 8 speakers, and 40 plus volunteers! I was absolutely amazed by the number of people and their excitement about the event. It was a time where people got to meet each other, explore organizations working to bring Disability justice and pride to the Triangle, honor past Disabled leaders, and celebrate each other. Just standing in the middle of that event and being surrounded by the excitement, love, and joy that was there filled me with so much hope for our community.

 

What do you hope the Duke community will take away from the screening of I Didn’t See You There? What broader changes do you hope to see at Duke?

I hope that people will take a moment to think about the implications of this movie on their life. Are there ways that they could better advocate for their Disabled peers on campus? Are there classes where they can bring up a Disability justice perspective? Are there areas in which they need to learn more? Change their language? Consider something differently? I hope they are able to apply something from this movie even if it’s just a little change to their lives to move forward in the Disability justice movement. For Duke as a whole, I deeply hope that they will expand their accessibility and accommodation from a legal hoop to jump through to an active way of participating in the learning and growth of all students. That is such a basic hope, but it feels like the next most important move for Duke as a whole to make before they can even enter into a Disability justice framework more broadly.