7 talks highlight people with disabilities breaking down barriers

Activists -- including TEDxMidAtlantic speaker Judith Heumann -- march to encourage the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act. (Photo: Tom Olin)

Activists — including TEDxMidAtlantic speaker Judith Heumann — march to encourage the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act. (Photo: Tom Olin)

In these seven talks, activists, advocates and educators share how they are working to build a society that works for people with disabilities:

For more than 30 years, Judith Heumann has fought for the civil rights of those with disabilities. In this funny, insightful and powerful talk, she shares what it was like to become an accidental spokesperson for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) — after being denied her teaching license because she used a wheelchair.

“People with disabilities aren’t a homogeneous group,” says activist Charlotte McClain-Nhlapo at TEDxFoggyBottom. People with disabilities have different gender identities, sexual identifies, ethnicities, backgrounds, languages, wants and preferences, she says, and unless governments and organizations factor this in, inclusive policies aren’t truly inclusive.

Attorney Haben Girma was the first deaf-blind graduate of Lewis & Clark College and Harvard Law School. At TEDxBaltimore, she shares how her experiences as a student — from advocating for access to school menus to learning how to communicate with classmates — made her decide to become a human rights lawyer and advocate for students with disabilities.

At TEDxKC, activist Denise Lance argues that society’s obsession with “independence” shames those who ask for help — especially those with disabilities. She asks able-bodied people to understand that “independence” isn’t better or more moral than “interdependence” and challenges us all to reach out and ask others if they want help.

The right pair of pants can change someone’s life, stylist Stephanie Thomas says. At TEDxYYC, she shares the ins-and-outs of dressing with disability in mind — and shares how fashion can be more disability friendly.

After engineer Luke Anderson lost his ability to walk due to a spinal cord injury, “accessibility” changed from an abstract concept to the way he planned his life, he says at TEDxYouth@Toronto. In his talk, he shares how he and a group of friends made Toronto more accessible — and colorful — by installing DIY neon-colored wheelchair ramps.

At TEDxTableMountain, researcher Dr. Gubela Mji shares how delegates from different countries in the Africa are working together to advocate for the needs of people with disabilities. Through evidence-based research, these educators and activists aim to improve everything from health care to education to basic civil rights.


  1. Sara

    Fantastic. Are there transcripts you could share on this page, too?

  2. Rachel

    This is great! I’d like to add Stella Young’s TED Talk, ‘I’m not your inspiration, thank you very much’: https://www.ted.com/talks/stella_young_i_m_not_your_inspiration_thank_you_very_much

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