Category Archives: News

WMDSC brings disability justice to Teach for America!

This post is from Nai Damato, WMDSC’s Board Chair.

I just got home from the Teach for America 25th anniversary Summit conference. It was very social-justice oriented. TFA is making a big effort to outgrow the white cis-female savior teacher stereotype.

There were a lot of workshops on race and anti-racist work. To list a few…Then and Now: The New Civil Rights Agenda, ‪#‎StayWoke‬: Stop the Violence, Increase the Opportunity, Every Student Counts: Moving the Equity Agenda Forward for AAPI Students, What is the role of white leaders on the path to equity?, Shutting Down the School to Prison Pipeline, Letter from Birmingham Jail: Perspectives on the Long Road to Equity.

There were two on gender/LGBTQ issues, namely Navigating Gender Dynamics in the Education Profession and one I attended, Beyond Marriage Equality: Safety and Empowerment in the Education of LGBTQ Youth. It was all very intersectional, e.g. most of the LGBTQIA panelists were Black, Latinx, or People of Color. There were workshops on class, international perspectives, and rural education. That said, I was really bummed that for all the times “diversity”, “intersectionality”, and “inclusion” were mentioned, not once was disability named alongside race, gender, sexual orientation, faith, culture, and class.

There were three events by Washington Metro Disabled Students Collective. The keynote, Practicing Disability Justice: Ableism, Mass Incarceration, and Movements for Racial Justice by Lydia X. Z. Brown and a breakout workshop also by them, Radically Intersected: Disability in Asexual, Queer, and Trans Communities. Natalia M. Rivera Morales and I co-presented on Recognizing and Combatting Ableism as an Educator. So I guess we were the ones putting Disability on the Social Justice map.

Let me end with two highlights! At the Beyond Marriage Equality workshop, a lesbian school principal from a DC public charter school I walk by all the time talked about how a trans student came out at age 4 and was totally supported by the school. Even while telling the story the principal used the right pronouns. No one dead-named her. And then as it turns out the mother of that student was in the audience and stood up and mentioned it was her daughter!

The other highlight was that the event organizer asked if WMDSC would be willing to have a role in the training process for incoming TFA’ers on how to be inclusive of and advocate for disability. This would be so exciting because we definitely need to talk about disability in a general educational context and not just leave it to special education. Not to mention many abled special education teachers still have a lot of learning to do. As a survivor, having this opportunity would be so meaningful. I was abused in school for years, partially because of ignorance, but also due to willful discrimination, and I know I am far from alone. I still witness a lot of ableist dynamics in the schools I go into now. I can’t think of anything more empowering than being part of the solution through informing educators, so that future generations of disabled students can have a positive educational experience!

Nai Damato speaks on panel on Gender-Based Violence & Marginalized Populations

Along with Ilana Alazzeh and Renleigh Stone, WMDSC Board Chair Nai Damato spoke last Monday on Gender-Based Violence and Marginalized Populations at American University as part of a panel presentation moderated by Sara Yzaguirre for Domestic Violence Awareness Month :

The flyer is split into 2 columns. Left column: The top row has the AU logo, CDI logo, and OASIS logo. Those are the sponsors. Domestic Violence Awareness Month Panel Event Gender-Based Violence: Marginalized Populations When October 26, 2015 6:30pm-8pm Where Mary Graydon Center (MGC) Room 4 (first floor) 4400 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington DC 20016 For disability accommodations, contact, 202-885-3360 Right column: Free event Open to public Sara Yzaguirre OASIS, Coordinator for Victim Advocacy Services Ilana Alazzeh Alumnae of Harvard Kennedy School genderfluid and queer, mixed radical anarchist interfaith muslim labor activist Nai Damato Student, Gallaudet University Survivor, non-binary female-designated-at-birth multiply-disabled transnational adoptee Renleigh Stone Student, Georgetown University Co-chair GU QPOC genderfluid, omnisexual activist

Renleigh Stone is depicted as a black person wearing glasses who is also wearing all black clothing and smiling. Their long hair is twisted and they are wearing a thick black headband. This photo was part of a Georgetown University campaign to give visibility to "out" queer students. This campaign photo reads that Renleigh is #lowkey, center stage, and omnisexual. Under that text it reads that Renleigh is "out" for questioning normatives, intersectional dialogue, and the forgotten. Under this text their name, Renleigh Stone, is printed in cursive. The banner at the bottom of the photo has Georgetown University’s LGBTQ Resource Center’s logo and website. To the right of that is “GU Pride” indicating which group Renleigh was then associated with. To the right of that is a hashtag #OUTforGU with the words "out" and "GU" in caps. The whole picture is filtered so that it is tinged with teal.

Meet a panelist: Renleigh Stone

Student, Georgetown University

Co-chair GU QPOC

Pronouns: they/them/their

Renleigh, a genderfluid junior at Georgetown University, is a Justice and Peace Studies major with a concentration in Gender & Justice. Renleigh seeks to help bring awareness of trans/nonbinary narratives to the queer dialectic. Renleigh has survived sexual and domestic violence as well as abuse; these instances of trauma manifested a call to advocacy to be answered. Renleigh has been a US student ambassador and is the co-founder of a student club at Georgetown, QPOC, pronounced “KYU-pock.” This student club was created out of a need to build community for queer people of color on their campus and to create positive spaces where real conversations can take place without the responsibility to cater to white homonormative standards. Renleigh can be reached by email: or by Facebook under Renleigh Stone

Mixed raced femme looking human with thick curly black hair put to the side. They/she has a nose ring, thick eye brows and is smiling with a red T-shirt on. Their red lipstick matches the shirt

Meet a panelist: Ilana Alazzeh

Alumnae, Harvard Kennedy School

Pronouns: She/her/hers and They/them/their

Producer, video-editor and writer for the Service Employees International Union. Radical interfaith feminist multiracial Muslim involved with Occupy, founder of Muslims Against Homophobia and LGBT Hate, Immigrant Stories and Ask An American Muslim. Has been invited to the White House and State Department several times. Featured in Washington Post,NPR, State Department Blog, RT America and frequent guest on Huffington Post Live.

She has given lectures at Georgetown University, Mt. Holyoke College, Smith College, Gettysburg College, Rhode Island College, American University, Deerfield Academy and UMASS Amherst on Islam, interfaith activism, community organizing, religion and science, and gender and sexuality.

Alumnae of Smith College, Harvard Kennedy School, Central University of Tibetan Studies in India and Ewha Womans University in South Korea.

White person with sunglasses and short hair in a black button up shirt with a collar

Meet a panelist: Nai Damato

ASL Interpreter and Assistive Technology Specialist

Pronouns: They, them, theirs or any non-binary set (ze/hir, xe/xyr, ey/em, etc.)

Nai loves life, languages, music, acupuncture, and “being the change”. Nai is a survivor of domestic violence, sexual violence, abuse, and neglect in both childhood and adulthood. Nai’s lived experience as a non-binary female-designated-at-birth multiply-disabled transnational adoptee has fueled their passion for intersectional social justice. Their experiences of DV and SV have guided them to their professions of ASL interpreting and training deaf-blind adults and blind children on braille computer technology. Nai co-founded the Washington Metro Disabled Students Collective with Lydia Brown, with the goal of building truly inclusive and welcoming communities for multiply-marginalized people in an anti-oppression framework. Nai believes in the healing power of transforming fear into knowledge and pain into perception, thereby freeing us from cycles of abuse and creating upward spirals of love.

Smiling white woman with short dark hair, wearing dark clothes and a chain necklace

Meet the moderator: Sara Yzaguirre

Coordinator for Victim Advocacy Services
The Wellness Center

Pronouns: She, her, hers

Sara Yzaguirre joined American University in November of 2014. Born and raised in the DC-Metro area, Sara is a proud product of the Arlington County public school system. Sara received her Bachelor of Arts from the University of Virginia, where she focused on gender and minority politics. After several years in the private sector, Sara returned to school to earn her Master’s of Social Work at the Catholic University of America. Sara has practiced clinical social work in homeless shelters, clinics, rape crisis, and campus settings. She is especially passionate about trauma treatment and sexual violence prevention programming.

BA in Government and Sociology, University of Virginia; MSW, Clinical Concentration, Catholic University of America.

Kick Off Event for Aspire Mentorship Program

When: September 30, 2015 at 6:00 pm
Where: School Without Walls at Francis Stevens
Address: 2425 N St NW, Washington, District of Columbia 20037
Meeting Location: Library
Who is Invited: Young disabled adults in the DC metro area who want to mentor a student with similar disabilities.

About the Program: School Without Walls at Francis Stevens in conjunction with Washington Metro Disabled Student Collective (WMDSC) will be hosting a mentorship program.

SWW @ FS students with disabilities will be partnered with young adults with disabilities to foster a better understanding of disabilities, personal growth, and empowerment. Our students will not only be able to talk with someone who may face similar challenges, but someone who is living his or her life to the fullest. The program will take place an hour a week. 

Join us this Wednesday to learn more!

Click here to view Facebook event

Department of Education ADA Event: Panel Featuring Emerging Disability Community Leaders


The event features a panel of young adults with different types of disabilities who have grown up in the era of the ADA’s implementation. WMDSC’s Board Secretary, Natalia M. Rivera Morales, is among the group of panelists for this event!

Friday, July 24th
9:00 am to 12:00 pm

Location: 400 Maryland Avenue, SW, in Washington, DC

Panelists include:

  • Accomplished athlete and six-time national champion in wheelchair racing and archery, Casey Followay of Ohio
  • National Council on Independent Living activist, Jaggar DeMarco of New Jersey.
  • Founder of Social Justice Media Services and Disability Rights Blogger, Emily Ladau of New York
  • National Association of the Deaf (NAD) activist, Nia Lazarus of California
  • Autistic Self Advocacy Network Leadership Programs Coordinator and WMDSC Board Secretary, Natalia M. Rivera Morales of Maryland.

Spread the word now to all those you know about DOE’s  #ADA25 celebration! The event is expected to reach maximum capacity, so RSVP today at one of the following links:

Alternatively, to receive the RSVP via email, please write to Isabella Espiritu or call her at (202) 453-6369 [Voice/Relay/VRS].

Click here to view the panel session schedule and other event details.


Accessibility Partners Blogs About WMDSC Community Forum

Accessibility Partners is a small woman-owned business founded in 2003 that works with government agencies, institutions of higher education, and businesses to improve their accessibility. After our April 3, 2015 community forum on accessible information and communications technology (in plain language: how to make different tech tools, from apps to websites to email to devices, useful for disabled folks in meaningful ways), they blogged about us and our event on their fantastic website!

You can read the blog post on their website or read some of our favorite parts below:

An Accessible Friday with the Washington Metro Disabled Students Collective

Greetings from the Community Forum on Accessible Information and Communication Technology! We’re here at the Access Board on a Friday, and are graciously brought together by the FCC and the Washington Metro Disabled Students Collective (WMDSC). One of the overarching themes that we’ve realized today is not only the importance of technology at a young age in education, but the necessity of accessible technology.

Being Autism Awareness Month, we heard from some amazing panel speakers. There was some amazing insight by Jaggar DeMarco, from the National Council on Independent Living at George Washington University. Deepa Goraya represented the Washington Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, and talked to us about transportation options like Uber and Lyft. We also heard from Jacqueline Wunderlic, of Gallaudet University, and Scott Robertson of the Autistic Self Advocacy. The room was chockfull of students, including from educational institutions across the region. It was an inspiring event, and Accessibility Partners Learned a lot! Always a treat to be back in the Access Board—our favorite hub for the latest and greatest in accessibility.

AWN & WMDSC Joint Statement on Justice for Michael Brown

Deeply saddened and outraged by the refusal to indict Darren Wilson for Michael Brown’s murder, the Autism Women’s Network and the Washington Metro Disabled Students Collective have issued a joint statement calling for justice for Michael Brown.

November 25, 2014

On August 9, 2014, a police officer shot and killed Michael Brown, a young Black man, in Ferguson, Missouri. He was unarmed, but Darren Wilson shot him six times. Once dead, Michael Brown’s body was left in the middle of the street for four hours. After three months of protests, community teach-ins, and actions nationwide, the St. Louis County prosecutor announced last night that the officer will not be indicted. The announcement comes without surprise to Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities that have long been victimized by police brutality. Officers responsible for the killings of unarmed people of color rarely face any real consequences for their actions.

Last year, George Zimmerman was acquitted of murder in his trial for killing Trayvon Martin, another unarmed Black man. In February, police shot and killed Yvette Smith, a Black woman, as she opened her own front door. Only days after Michael Brown’s death, Los Angeles police shot and killed Ezell Ford, a Black man with psychiatric disabilities. In September, Provo police shot and killed Darrien Hunt, a Black man who was cosplaying a fictitious character. This past week, Marissa Alexander, a Black woman, pleaded guilty to charges filed against her for firing a warning shot at her abusive husband. Last week, Brooklyn police shot and killed Akai Gurley, another unarmed Black man. This past weekend, while the grand jury’s decision in Michael Brown’s death was still pending, Cleveland police shot and killed Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old Black boy.

Right now, Eisha Love, a Black trans woman, is facing attempted murder charges for defending herself against four men who attacked her. Neli Latson, a Black autistic man, is currently in solitary confinement stemming from repeated encounters with police and an original 10.5 year prison sentence after being profiled as suspicious and arrested while waiting outside his library in 2010.

State-sanctioned violence is rampant against people of color, especially those who experience multiple forms of oppression. Hundreds of unarmed Black people, trans women of color, and disabled people of color—many from low-income communities—are murdered with brutal, vicious violence every year. White privilege cannot be clearer than the benefit of the doubt extended to white people who claim they feared for their lives when encountering Black and Brown people, while Black and Brown people defending themselves from actual violence are charged and imprisoned without considering the circumstances.

Every year, the disability community holds vigils nationwide to honor disabled people who were murdered by family members or caregivers. Of the hundreds of victims on the lists that grow each year, the ones that receive most of the attention in the disability community tend to be white. Of the untold numbers of disabled people who experience police brutality, those whose cases are brought to public attention are typically white. This clear racial disparity is a replication of white-centric attitudes in larger society. The Washington Metro Disabled Students Collective and the Autism Women’s Network believe that it is our moral responsibility to show solidarity for the low-income Black and Brown communities targeted by the vast majority of police brutality and Black and Brown activists and organizations leading the charge in the fight for racial justice.

While many members of the autistic and broader disabled communities are also racialized and low-income, it is imperative that all of us recognize the necessity of supporting our Black and Brown friends, neighbors, and colleagues. We advocate not for vengeance or retribution, but for an end to the systematic violence of structural racism. We call for our community to show support for the families and communities of people who have been murdered by racist police violence and those who continue to face denial of any genuine justice. For those of us who are not impacted directly by police violence or anti-Black racism, we raise our voices—both metaphorical and literal—in support of yours. It is not enough simply to demand justice for disabled people or to be outraged when police kill disabled people of color. Justice is for all, not “just us.” The struggle for disabled liberation will never be complete without racial justice.

Black Lives Matter.

Lydia Brown, President
Nai Damato, Board Chair
Washington Metro Disabled
Students Collective (WMDSC)

Sharon daVanport
Autism Women’s Network

This statement authored by WMDSC co-founder and AWN board member Lydia Brown.

Nai, Lydia, and Allie sitting at a table, holding signs. Nai has two signs. The first says, "End the war on Black, poor communities. Justice for Mike Brown." Then a drawing of a police officer with club and riot gear, based on the image Krip Hop Nation uses for their Police Brutality Profiling mixtape. The second poster says, "Shooting an unarmed man with hands up 6 times is murder. We all deserve better." The drawing is Michael Brown with hands in the air. Lydia's sign says, "Washington Metro Disabled Students Collective in Solidarity with Ferguson. #blacklivesmatter." Allie's sign says, "We will not sit idly by. #DisabilitySolidarity for Mike Brown." Nai and Allie are white. Lydia is East Asian. Nai is wearing dark glasses. Allie is using a manual chair.
Board Chair Nai Damato, President Lydia Brown, and member Allie Cannington attend CODEPINK’s rally at the Department of Justice for Michael Brown, and the town hall afterward at Busboys and Poets. (August 2014). One sign has a drawing of a police officer with riot baton and says, “End the War on Black, Poor Communities! Justice for Mike Brown!” Another sign has a drawing of Mike Brown with hands up and says, “Shooting an unarmed man with hands up 6 times is murder. We all deserve better.” Another sign says, “Wash. Metro Disabled Students Collective in Solidarity with Ferguson. #BlackLivesMatter.” The last sign says, “We will not sit idly by. #DisabilitySolidarity for Mike Brown.”