Jae Kim. Courtesy photo.

The Seattle Public Library hosts the Bullitt Lecture series in American History, and in June, the Lecture featured disability rights icon Judith Heumann, who discussed her memoir, Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist, with local social worker Jae Kim.

Kim, who herself has a developmental disability, felt it was an honor to meet Heumann. “I always wanted to meet her because she created changes in our community and her work has influenced our lives today,” Kim said. “I think because of her, we can do what we want in the community.”

By participating in the Lecture, Kim wanted to increase the awareness of disability and its history. “Many people do not realize that disability rights are civil rights,” she reported. “My hopes are that I have asked the questions that most people were curious about and it would make them to be even more curious to learn.”

This is the same goal that Kim holds as a social worker in her role as Supervisor of Information and Referral at Arc of King County. “I decided to specialize in social work so that I can support students like me to expect access to and opportunities for higher education, employment, and independent living,” she recounted. “I had a limited access to education until high school due to my disability, so I wanted to help students with disabilities to receive appropriate education.”

This was something Kim felt she didn’t receive. “At first, I wasn’t sure what field I should go to because there aren’t a lot of college degrees relating to disability,” she said. “However, I felt like my program needs more classes on disability, which tells us that disability is underrepresented in our society.”

Now, at Arc of King County, her role is to oversee the Information and Referral Team, making sure that they serve people with disabilities accurately. “I forward calls or emails asking about services and support to appropriate staff members on our team because each of us has different knowledge in different areas,” she described. “Sometime I respond to emails if the topic is my interests.”

Kim also conducts outreach proactively. “I manage our online community calendar and resource guide where I post updated information about disability services around King County area,” she said. “I give presentations and training to community and share my lived experiences as a person with disability. My personal story helps people to understand the contents better.”

But that’s not all. “I run Smooth Talkers, a monthly meetup for who use communication devices,” she added, “and a support group for people with disabilities.”

Kim may not have all the answers, but she always strives to lend an ear. “It helps most people because they feel isolated and need someone to just listen,” she said. “I felt really bad when I first started for not having a solution for everyone and then I realized a small thing can matter to people.”

Despite the rewards, Kim’s work hasn’t been without its challenges. “While we talk about racism, gender, other isms, we leave out disability in the conversation,” she said. “People with disabilities are most likely to drop out of high school and cannot get higher education or have a job.”

But she emphasizes that people with disabilities have their own voices. “In the developmental disability world, most advocacy and service development is done by non-disabled professionals and/or non-disabled parents, but almost never led by people with developmental disability,” she reported. “To me, ableism is discrimination towards people with disabilities and that non-disabled people judge based on someone’s ability to do something.”

She says the struggle isn’t over. “I would love if there was no need to advocate for disability justice, but sadly, we need to continue advocating for this,” she said. “We should keep educating people by doing this kind of presentation so that people can be aware of disability justice.”

Rather than focus on differences, the Bullitt Lecture helped Kim focus on building community and connection. “Disability isn’t a negative thing,” she said, “and people with disabilities can enjoy their lives with right type of support.”

For more news, click here

Previous articleDance artists Jay Hirabayashi and Barbara Bourget are inducted in the Dance Collection Danse Hall of Fame in Toronto
Next articleLearning how dream big at a young age to overcome racism, classism and oppression