Interview with Delegate Hala Ayala by Conner Cummings
Photograph by Conner Cummings
Conner Cummings and his mom, Sharon, attend many political events in Virginia and Washington D.C. to advocate for Conner’s Law and the autistic community. Recently, they met Hala Alaya, an advocate and elected Delegate for working families in Prince William County, Virginia. Conner interviewed her for Zoom Issue 15 about the work she’s doing as a champion for women’s rights.
You are working hard along with many other amazing women to get the ERA passed in the state of Virginia. How will this benefit ALL Women not just in Virginia.
HALA ALAYA: We are at a pivotal time in our nation. The Equal Rights Amendment is a provision that would guarantee women protection under the law. Congress initially passed the ERA in 1972 but unfortunately the deadline for state ratification has since expired. Virginia is now the 38th and final state needed to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. This amendment will help women and men alike – we all benefit when people are treated equally under law, and this amendment would treat gender discrimination with strict scrutiny.
You have a son who is autistic can you share briefly what life was like for you and his accomplishments with his permission?
HALA: I have two fabulous children. Each in their own right has carved out a path based on their passions and interests, and I am very proud. As a single mom, and woman of color, it wasn’t always easy making sure that my children were connected to the resources they needed to promote their positive growth and wellbeing; but we did well and as a family we love each other and support one another’s dreams.
You are your own powerful woman and you were able to meet our cover story women during the photo shoot. Can you share with us what you learned from these women or what it was like posing with them?
HALA: I had a fantastic time. Posing in a photoshoot is certainly something I am learning to be more comfortable with and having powerful women by my side during the experience helped create a greater sense of ease.
What is most important to me is seeking out and learning from the diverse voices and lived experiences that make up our communities. Mia, Julia, and Sharon offer powerful perspectives – as women, as leaders, and as individuals who experience the world in ways different than those of us who do not have a disability.
I am working hard to reach out and understand the perspectives and needs of everyone and appreciate that ZOOM has created this opportunity for further outreach. This experience was another reminder that the issues that exist in our communities are issues that affect all of us – access to high quality health care, education, transportation etc., are not just challenges for women, or people with disabilities, but challenges for a vast majority of citizens of our country and together we can work to solve them.
What advice would you like to give all women?
HALA: Speak up and speak out. The voices of women need to be heard. In Virginia, only 28 out of 100 state delegates are women. This number needs to be higher – much higher. We need more women in leadership positions across the country – and we need women who represent the diversity that exists in our communities, women of color, women with disabilities, LGBTQ women, and especially women who understand the challenges of lack of access to affordable health insurance, childcare, and education.
Take advantage of leadership and advocacy opportunities wherever you are! Learn about and engage in grassroots community organizing about issues you care about. As the mother of an autistic son and for others connected to disability, I am grateful for organizations like the Autistic Self Advocacy Network directed by Julia Bascom, Mia’s work with transformative justice, and Sharon daVanport’s work to build acceptance and understanding. Disability justice and women’s rights are ultimately about creating and supporting communities where everyone belongs and has the supports necessary to live, learn, work, play, and contribute.
*Special thanks to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Washington D.C. for allowing us access to their Presidential Suite for our Cover Story feature and interviews.
READ MORE ARTICLES:
Editor’s Letter: In this Issue: Fierce Advocates for Women and Autistic Rights
Powerful Women Cover Story Interviews
- Alyssa Milano Speaks Out for a Better World for All Women
- Julia Bascom on the Amazing, Vibrant and Resilient Autistic Community
- Sharon daVanport Finds Power in Her Joy
- Mia Ives-Rublee: Stop Listening to the Naysayers & Fight for What You Believe
- Senator Duckworth: A Lifelong Mission of Supporting, Protecting and Keeping Promises
- From Feeling Powerless to Owning My Power by Morénike Giwa Onaiwu
- Advocating for Others by Advocating for Myself by Chana Bennett-Rumley
- Facing the Music and Changing My Life by Michelle DeVos, Esq.
- The Three Amigas: An Unexpected Friendship by Dani Bowman
In Every Issue
- Cummings and Goings: Finding Power in Who You Are by Conner Cummings
- #AskingAutistics: Have You Ever Been Accused of Acting MORE Autistic? by Christa Holmans
- Don’t Get Me Down: Fighting Autistic Inertia by Becca Lory Hector
- The View from Here: Starring in the Real-Life Drama as “The Good Anesthetist” by Anita Lesko
With Updates from Jacob Fuentes and Carly Fulgham at end of article
Big Question: What Advice Would You Give to Your Younger Self?
Discover more Zoom Issues:
- Issue 13: Family
- Issue 14: Trailblazers
- Issue 15: Powerful Women
- Archived issues on the Zoom Home Page
Listen to an audio version of this article