Q&A with PSU Student and Advocate Arlene Amaya

In 2017 and 2018, Northwest Health Foundation convened the Disability Justice Leaders Collaborative – a group of fourteen disabled people of color interested in deepening their understanding of disability justice and discussing visions and strategies for ensuring the needs of people with disabilities are centered in decision-making. Arlene is one of the leaders participating in the Collaborative.

Arlene smiles, standing in front of an industrial background.

Q. What leadership roles have you played?

A. Currently, I'm the cultural sustainability coordinator for Portland State University’s Student Sustainability Center and the community engagement coordinator for Green Lents. I also hold leadership positions through PSU’s accessibility committee, universal design subcommittee and environmental club.

Q. What leadership roles do you hope to take on in the future?

A. I’m not entirely sure what my future leadership roles will look like, but I'll be graduating from Portland State in Spring 2018, so they'll likely be significantly different.  Right now I'm more focused on the process of shaping what principles I want to apply to my current and future work. 

Q. What is most exciting to you about disability justice?

A. I think it’s another opportunity to recognize the inherent value and dignity of everyone, which conflicts with the ways many of our systems and institutions currently operate. It’s also a chance to recognize the strength in our differences. Validating one another’s accessibility needs is crucial, and it requires that we are part of a community that holds itself accountable to a dynamic learning process. In these ways, disability justice feels like truly exciting and revolutionary work to me.

Q. What do you hope to get out of being a part of the Disability Justice Leaders Collaborative?

A. I decided to apply for the DJLC, because I wanted to gain a better understanding of ableism, my own accessibility needs and how to apply these principles to my work. I wanted to do so as part of a community, and then work within that community to build collective power. 

Additionally, my identity as someone who's disabled doesn't exist separately from my identities as a queer, working-class Latina (from Salvadoran parents). In many spaces that focus on disability rights, we're not able to explore the significance and influence of our other identities and that comes at a huge cost. The DJLC is a unique and special space, because it really mobilizes those important conversations. Its leading principles should be part of all justice movements. 

Q. What is your favorite book, movie or song, and why?

A. I have many favorites in each category, but the last book I read was Corazón by Yesika Salgado, the last movie I watched was Black Panther, and the last song I listened to was "Sound & Color" by Alabama Shakes.