Interview with Mia Ives-Rublee by Haley Moss
Photograph by Kisha Bari
Mia Ives-Rublee is the founder and coordinator for Women’s March Disability Caucus. She is currently a consultant for numerous non-profit organizations, helping them integrate disability inclusion throughout their policies, platforms, and organizing. Mia identifies as a disabled transracial adoptee and Korean American woman. She grew up in North Carolina and went to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). After receiving her bachelor’s degree in Sociology, she attended UNC – Chapel Hill to get her Master’s in Social Work (MSW).
One theme as part of this issue is intersectionality. What does that mean to you, and how do your different identities (disabled, transracial adoptee, woman) intersect? Do they influence your perspective on things?
MIA IVES-RUBLEE: I came across Kimberlé Crenshaw’s work while studying sociology during undergrad and it really resonated for me. She discussed how one could not do a true analysis of people in society based on one characteristic or identity, such as being black or being a woman. A black woman experiences the world much differently than a black man or a white woman. The two characteristics, being black and being a woman, intersected each other and showed how different types of discrimination and oppressions interacted with each other. Crenshaw expanded her work to address how this could also be affected by numerous other marginalized identities, including sexual identity, class, immigration status, etc. As a student who took classes that addressed issues as if they were totally separate, I never felt they truly addressed the complexity of oppression, society, and human nature. Crenshaw’s work opened my eyes and allowed me to feel comfortable being my whole self. I could talk about being a disabled Asian American woman rather than just talking about being disabled or Asian American or a woman.
You began as an athlete! As someone who is not athletically-inclined I admire you so much for that. What was it like being an adaptive athlete?
MIA: Athletics allowed me to feel comfortable in my body and in my identity as a disabled person. For the longest time, I heard from professionals that I could not do various things. That can be really hard for anyone to hear, especially an extremely motivated young person. When I began participating in athletics, I found a new side of me. I was able to explore the capacity of my body and push my tenacity to greater limits. I also learned how to set goals.
As a child, I didn’t really set goals for myself because I had such a low self-esteem. I believed that I wasn’t going to be able to do much in my life. But as I continued to improve in sports, my coach and my dad taught me to make short- and long-term goals. The goals would include shaving a few seconds off my 400m to going to the Paralympics. I didn’t always make my goals, but that just pushed me to work harder. I don’t think I would be where I am today if I had not been in adaptive athletics.
How did you become involved in activism?
MIA: I grew up in a family that was very socially conscious. My parents had us volunteering as a family when I was in elementary school and I saw my mother advocating for my siblings and I while we attended school. It was very easy for me to slip in to that type of volunteering once I got in to high school and college.
Studying sociology helped me better frame the inequalities I saw growing up. I began working in student leadership at UIUC to get rid of a racist university mascot and fight for marriage equality. After getting my MSW, I worked as a counselor to help disabled people in my community obtain employment. It was there that I realized that policies made by uninformed and sometime callus people were affecting my clients and causing them to continue cycling through our program. It was then that I decided to get out of individual counseling and work on research in hopes of providing more information to those making the policy decisions. But I found that work slow and I often felt like the work we were creating was not being used or looked at.
After the 2017 election, I made a promise to myself that I would get in to more overt activism and community organizing. That was when I saw a post about a Women’s March being planned. I didn’t realize then that it would catapult me into the work that I currently do.
The Women’s March is such a large-scale event. How are you working to make the Women’s March more accessible to all?
MIA: Women’s March was originally conceived as a one-time event. I don’t think any of the organizers really realized how big it would be. We just put our heads down and tried to organize as quickly as possible. I originally had no plans to work on the national team. I had contacted the state leads in NC, but didn’t hear back from them (they were receiving hundreds of requests at the time).
While I continued to figure out how I could help, I started noticing a lot of questions around accessibility. Now I’ve been to events and protests and understand how uncomfortable it can feel to be at an event that hasn’t thought about accessibility. Events with large amounts of people can be a scary and even dangerous place for a disabled person. So, I began thinking about what accessibility services I’d like to see at the event and contacted my friends to see if they wanted to create a caucus to show the national team that they needed to address our issues.
After the caucus was formed, I started contacting all the people I could find attached to Women’s March Facebook pages and eventually was able to speak to someone. We worked with the Women’s March team, suggesting the various things they could do to make the event more accessible, including having interpreters, open captioning, accessible seating, mental health professionals, an ADA tent, etc. However, I didn’t just want the Women’s March to provide services. I wanted disabled people to be included in the platform and on the stage. So, I pushed to have their platform to be amended and invited Senator Tammy Duckworth to speak. After the event, Women’s March organizers decided to create an organization. I continue to coordinate the Women’s March Disability Caucus and I consult with the Women’s March organization on disability issues.
The theme of this issue of Zoom is powerful women. What does being a powerful woman mean to you?
MIA: I have long thought about this as I continue to grow as a person and as a woman. I believe that women are generally powerful. A woman can be powerful in so many ways, from the smallest thing, like getting up in the morning when the world feels like its ganging up on them, to the greatest acts of moral courage. But what makes someone extraordinary? I truly admire women who are knocked down, yet continuously get back up again to fight for what they believe in. I admire a woman who is willing to help other women get ahead and I admire women who make sure they get the credit they deserve. I know that I have been raised by a powerful woman, who spent her years arguing with educators that I deserved a chance to learn and participate with my peers. I can only hope that my work and tenacity helps others in similar fashion.
What is one piece of advice you would give to other disabled girls and women?
MIA: As disabled girls and women, we often are told about our limits and inabilities. My advice is to stop listening to the naysayers and find out what you are passionate about. You’re much more than you give yourself credit for and you are able to do much more than you can even currently dream. Get out there, take risks, make mistakes, get back up again, and try again.
Where can our readers learn more about you and the work you are doing?
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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
- Hala Ayala: Seeking Out and Learning from Diverse Voices
- 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?
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