"About Us" is a series of interviews with accomplished self-advocates in Florida.
Sarah Goldman has a bachelor’s degree in social work from the University of Central Florida and a master’s degree in social work from Florida State University. She is a Florida Developmental Disabilities Council member and also sits on the Pinellas County Council on People with Disabilities. She is an Idelio Valdes Advocacy and Leadership award winner and currently works as a state legislative aide.
In this edition of “About Us,” Sarah talks about the importance of equality and full inclusion in society for people with disabilities.
Question: How important is being a person
with a disability to your identity?
Sarah: I wouldn’t say it’s all of my identity because there are so many other parts to who I am, but, it’s a major part of who I am because it impacts my daily life and my daily challenges. It also fuels my purpose in life and what I do as an advocate. I feel like my calling came from having a disability; without it I don’t know if I would be where I am today.
Question: When did you begin to identify as a self-advocate?
Sarah: When I was growing up, my dad did most of the advocating for me. He went to my IEP meetings and even helped me transition into college. When I got to college I became a self-advocate. Living independently, I had to do things for myself. When I got into the social work program at UCF I really started understanding ableism, the ADA, and all the disability policies. I started understanding how broken they were and how much work still needs to be done to achieve equality for people with disabilities. That's when I realized I could be an advocate. I could speak up, not only for myself and my needs, but for our population too.
Question: What is your funniest disability-related story?
Sarah: One of my favorite memories was at UCF. My power wheelchair died in the rain, in the middle of campus. I always tested the theory that power wheelchairs could die in the rain and I decided to chance it because I wanted to get back to my dorm. So, I went in the rain and sure enough my wheelchair died. I was stranded in the middle of campus and four athletes, I think they were football players, had to manually push my 400 pound wheelchair across campus all the way back to my dorm. It was embarrassing, but also really funny when I look back on it.
Question: What disability-related issue is most significant to you?
Sarah: Any issue related to personal care. It could even be employment and keeping benefits. Keeping care while working or even getting married, and how you can’t have marriage equality and be able to keep your benefits. There are a lot of broken policies within that arena. Since I need personal care for my daily needs, that whole subject impacts a lot of my advocacy work.
Question: Can you share a time when your disability inspired a behavior, comment, or reaction that you found particularly obnoxious?
Sarah: When people see individuals in wheelchairs they often pity us or think we’re inanimate objects that can’t speak for ourselves. Recently, while in Nashville, I had a waitress look at my mom and say “well, what does she want to eat?” and I said, “well actually I’d like a cheeseburger please.” It happens all the time. People come up to me on the street and say, “aw she’s so pretty.” It’s not even like I’m so pretty, it’s she is, like I don’t identify as a real person. We’re almost treated like inanimate objects. I hate that. I think it’s so obnoxious. We are people and we can communicate in whatever form we can.
Question: What about a positive experience?
Sarah: Anytime someone recognizes my accomplishments. Like "wow, you’ve done an advocacy project and you’re working full-time." I like when people can make a positive remark about that.
Question: If you could invite one person with a disability, living or dead, to have a conversation over coffee, who would it be? Why?
Sarah: It would have to be Joni Eareckson Tada. She's in a wheelchair and lives in California. She broke her back when she was young. She runs a Christian ministry for people with disabilities. My faith is a big part of my life. I’d like to have a chance to talk with her and figure out how we can include more people with disabilities within the church. I’d love to meet her.
Question: In 10 years, what would you most like to be different in the lives of persons with disabilities?
Sarah: Everything. I want to see more integration in the community, more accommodations for students within schools. I want to see employers hiring people with disabilities like they would hire an able-bodied employee, so it wouldn’t be an afterthought. It would be a common occurrence. I want to see laws changed for marriage equality and being able to keep benefits. I’d really like to see buildings be more ADA compliant. I can’t believe it’s 2019 and I still have to ask whether or not a building is accessible before I get there. I hope in 10 years we don’t have to ask that question.
Question: If you could pick one song as your theme song, what would you choose?
Sarah: “Roar” by Katy Perry. It’s kind of like my advocacy motto. It talks about the importance of using your voice, speaking up for yourself, and not being ashamed about it. I love to listen to that song when I need to be pumped up for my advocacy work.
The FSACentral staff would like to thank Sarah for taking the time to participate in the interview.