Seemingly as soon as it began, we reached the end of Disability Pride Month. As we say farewell to this celebration, it is important to remember all of the people with disabilities who contribute to San Diego Oasis and the San Diego Community in general. As discussed at the start of this month, Disability Pride is meant to reframe disabilities as a natural part of the human condition rather than something to hide or be ashamed of. So, in the spirit of recognizing and celebrating people with disabilities, Diversity Outreach Coordinator Sydney Folsom sat down with Oasis staff member Russ Allen to discuss his experience as a person with a disability and his contributions to the San Diego Community.
Russ began life as an able-bodied person, but became disabled after a severe car accident that caused him to lose the use of his left hand. Despite this, Russ has been an integral part of the San Diego Oasis team for many years. Russ came to Oasis from a career in the Karaoke business when his girlfriend told him about our organization. Russ was looking for a more sustainable career and after meeting former Director of Operations and Volunteer Programs, Amy O’Connor, Russ was convinced that San Diego Oasis was the place for him. Since then, he has served the organization in a variety of capacities.
It is clear that Russ’ disability does not hinder his work here at Oasis and Russ credits this resilience to his upbringing. Russ says he grew up in a tough neighborhood which allowed him to develop thick skin. Russ says he used to try to hide his disability, but because of his toughness, he learned to embrace it. This allowed him to overcome many of the challenges that he encountered after losing the use of his hand.
Using this can-do-attitude, Russ became an advocate for people with disabilities as a college student at UCSD back in the early 90’s. He served as president of the Disabled Student Union which was part of a larger organization called the Student Affirmative Action Committee, or SAAC. Through this group, Russ and his colleagues worked on ending systemic discrimination at the University by furthering the school’s implementation of the newly-passed Americans with Disabilities Act. He also helped organize a tree planting event that was meant to bring people together and change student perceptions of people with disabilities.
When asked what Disability Pride means to him, Russ said that disabilities are simply a part of the human experience. “Disabilities are nothing but varieties and they are an important part of what makes people different.” Thus, disability pride should be innate because disability should never be something to be ashamed of.
Thank you, Russ, for showing us that disabilities are part of what makes people unique!