Learn more about ways to celebrate and support those living with disabilities in this quick Q&A chat with female leaders Councilwoman Mary Zendejas & Jennifer Kumiyama.
Be who you are and feel truly seen — an important reminder of how every person should feel when they belong to a community. This is no different for those living with disabilities.
This month, we’re honoring the many who live with disabilities and bringing positive awareness to Disability Pride Month by sharing a conversation with elected city official of Long Beach City Council District 1 Mary Zendejas and Citywide ADA Coordinator Jennifer Kumiyama (as of July 18th).
“I am honored to have been elected to the city council for the second time because it is the perfect way to bring visibility to disability. As we develop policy together on the council my colleagues can easily see, firsthand how our legislation can positively or negatively impact those living with disabilities because they are able to wittiness how it impacts me. It is of the utmost importance to bring visibility to disabilities and we should always be celebrating our uniqueness and abilities to the fullest.” — Councilwoman Mary Zendejas
Both are proud female leaders and wheelchair users who empower us daily with their commitment to the city and its people.
Read on to learn more about Disability Pride and a few ways to celebrate.
LB Living : What is the purpose and background of Disability Pride in the city of Long Beach?
Councilwoman Mary Zendejas: The purpose of disability pride month in Long Beach is to showcase and highlight the abilities of people living with disabilities. To show pride in the accomplishment of those living with disabilities. The city’s Citizens Advisory Commission on Disability has been the lead on disability pride for decades.
Jennifer Kumiyama: Disability Pride Month is recognized nationally. It’s important for our community to be seen as people who are proud of who we are – since disability is so very often seen as something that is sad or difficult; it doesn’t have to be seen that way.
“Disability is intersectional. We are active members of our community who need to be seen as such.” — Jennifer Kumiyama
LBL: In what ways can our community honor or celebrate Disability Pride and its culture this month?
CMZ: By showcasing members of the community who are fierce advocates and activists in the disability movement. Another way to honor and celebrate Disability Pride is to be proactive in learning about all the organizations that serve those with disabilities at all levels.
JK: Disability allyship is very important to the success of our community as a whole, and we are one of the only communities that anyone can become a part of at any time.
Honoring the disability community can be done in many ways:
- Attending different pride events (there are many in the LA County area)
- Supporting local Long Beach disability organizations financially or volunteering at the Disabled Resources Center, Tichenor Clinic and Able Arts Work; nationally – United Spinal Association, EasterSeals, and The Arc
- Following disabled content creators is a great way to support our community in addition to sharing the content to educate the non-disabled community as well.
Organizations like these are great resources in order to find and supporting policies that further promote equity for people with disabilities.
LBL: What are some ways we can destigmatize disability and bring awareness to uplift it?
CMZ: Having panels that include a diversity of people living with disabilities or attending events that celebrate Disability Pride!
This July 28, we’re bringing together the disability community. It’s something I look forward to every year. We see this as our Disability Pride celebration. During this dinner, we will have honorees that serve in the Disability community and give scholarships to students with disabilities. I’m a proud sponsor. For this, we choose two students from Long Beach colleges and present them with scholarships. We will also honor vets. For those interested in joining on July 28, take a look at this flyer.
JK: Disability is intersectional – meaning that we belong to many other communities. Making sure that we are uplifted in those communities is a great way to promote true inclusivity and ensure that disability is represented fully.
LBL: Where can our community members find more information about Disability Pride in Long Beach?
CMZ: Disabled Resources Center & CACOD
This Webinar was put together by The Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation and Disability EmpowHer Network who both serve the disability community in many ways. The purpose of this webinar was to highlight elected officials during Disability Pride month, who are women who use wheelchairs. We shared what made us decide to run for office, what were our initial steps taken, what were our challenges and how we overcame them and what advice we would give to women who have disabilities if they are thinking about running for office.
Councilwoman Mary Zendejas
She was elected into office on Tuesday November 5, 2019 and sworn into office on December 3, 2019. She is the first Latina wheelchair user to be elected to office in the nation. She has never met a challenge she couldn’t tackle and overcome. As an infant, she was diagnosed with Polio, and later in High School started using a wheelchair daily. Her passion for living and working hard is rooted in seeing her parents, a field hand and factory worker, provide their children a better life. Their hard-work allowed Mary to go to California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) and become the first in her family to graduate from college.
was born with Arthrogryposis and uses a wheelchair daily. Kumiyama received voice lessons at Long Beach City College and California State University of Long Beach.
In 2000, Jennifer earned a spot on Warner Bros. reality TV show “Popstars 2” and earned national accolades from many publications including Variety Magazine and TV Guide – referring to her as “the girl in the wheelchair, who’s voice blew everyone out of the water”. Shortly after that in 2002 – Jennifer was cast in Disney’s “Aladdin; a Musical Spectacular” at Disney California Adventure Theme Park, where she is the first performer in a wheelchair to ever be on any Disney stage in the world. She performed 4 times a day for 8,000 guests a day, who visit from every corner of the world.
It was at Disney that Jennifer took on her real role as an advocate for people living with disabilities – showing the entire world that talent sees no boundaries. This motivated her to become a speaker – sharing her story with schools, social groups, and major businesses. Her new passion, in addition to singing – is being a voice for people living with disabilities by breaking attitudinal and architectural barriers. “Aladdin; a Musical Spectacular” closed on January 10, 2016.
In 2010, Jennifer was crowned Ms. Wheelchair California and Ms. Wheelchair America 2011, 1st Runner Up. During her reign she spread the message of hope through her platform “Empowering Children with Disabilities to Make Their Own Dreams Come True”.
Jennifer was cast in a major role as ‘Carmen’ in Sundance Film Festival hit and Academy Award Nominated film “The Sessions”, MTV’s teen sensation “Awkward” and became the founder and owner of The Ms. Wheelchair California Foundation in 2011 and has since retired as the State Coordinator in 2016.
Since the closing of ‘Aladdin’ Jennifer worked for former Long Beach Councilwoman, Senator Lena Gonzalez. She currently works for Long Beach Mayor Dr. Robert Garcia. Jennifer is also an AD 70 Delegate in the California Democratic Party.
Stay tuned up-to-date with the Disabled Resources Center by following social @drc_2750.
To contact CACOD, please contact Citywide ADA Coordinator Jennifer Kumiyama at (562)570-6707 or Jennifer.Kumiyama@longbeach.gov.
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