"About Us" is a series of interviews with accomplished self-advocates in Florida.
Damian Gregory has spent his life as a disability advocate, most recently focusing on voting and employment.
After graduating from the University of Miami in 1997 with bachelor's degrees in broadcast journalism and political science, Damian spent the first half of his career working in journalism. These days he dedicates himself to disability advocacy. At the end of 2017, he and twin brother Darren began Nothing About Us Without Us, a consulting company that addresses disability sensitivity and promotes hiring people with disabilities for competitive employment. His second venture, Disabled Voter, is concerned with the civic engagement of people with disabilities. Although he calls Miami home, his family moved there from Jamaica when he and Darren were 9.
In this edition of “About Us,” Damian lets us in on a snapshot of his life, interests, and hopes for the future.
Question: How important is being a person
with a disability to your identity?
Damian: It’s as important to my identity as being a person of color and being male. However, it’s not the sole component of my identity and I don’t like to be identified necessarily by any category.
Question: When did you begin to identify as a self-advocate?
Damian: I’ve been an advocate for myself for my whole life. It is not until the last few years (five or so) that I identify myself as a self-advocate. I didn't have a name for it. I just thought of it as a natural thing to do. I never thought about it in terms of labels until then.
Question: What is your funniest disability-related story?
Damian: It’s actually not a funny story at all. It’s a story that makes me think of how society views you. I was Student Government Association (SGA) President in high school and at an event on stage. I had a school board administrator with me. I don’t remember the exact event but the moderator was making introductions, discussing my accomplishments and when she walked away, right before I was supposed to speak, the administrator asked me how a black disabled person became SGA president of a major high school in Miami-Dade County to which I responded "by working damn hard." That was a big moment of self-realization because I knew how I was going to answer and that I wasn’t going to back down. If that incident would’ve happened before then, I wouldn’t have known how to answer. I was in the moment and not flabbergasted at all.
Question: What disability-related issue is most significant to you?
Damian: Voting is the single most important issue to me because while there are other important issues in the disability community such as employment and healthcare and transportation, without having a voice to impact those issues, it becomes more difficult. It’s also more than just the act of voting. It’s getting politicians to understand that we vote and contribute. We aren’t just takers in society. We cannot only make sure they are elected but get them un-elected as well.
Question: Can you share a time when your disability inspired a behavior, comment, or reaction that you found particularly obnoxious?
Damian: I mentioned the obnoxious experience above involving the school board administrator.
Question: What about a positive experience?
Damian: The other experience has to do with my perception. It was my grandfather who took me to school. The incident happened in middle school, in the 8th or 9th grade. I was 13 or 14 at the time, dressed in a suit outside my school trying to go up the curb cut. My wheelchair flipped over and instead of being embarrassed, I tried to pass it off as something I meant to do, which wasn’t the case at all. That situation made me realize that things like that are going to happen but it’s not the end of your life.
Question: If you could invite one person with a disability, living or dead, to have a conversation over coffee, who would it be? Why?
Damian: President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) because he lived so much of his life hiding his disability and concealing who he was. I wonder how much of the experience of being one of our great leaders he missed out on because of that. I wonder how much of his energy went toward that and I also wonder how it was living with a disability when he was alive and the attitudes toward people with disabilities compared to the present day. Another interesting question to me would be if he would even be willing to talk with me about it at all.
Question: In 10 years, what would you most like to be different in the lives of persons with disabilities?
Damian: Hopefully some of the paternalistic attitudes will change and people with disabilities will not be seen as takers but also contributors to their communities. Unfortunately, there still remains a narrow definition of disability in terms of limits. Disability shouldn’t be seen as a limiting thing but as approaching life differently. That our disability isn’t our sole identity of who we are. Also, hopefully more characters with disabilities will be visible in the media. It would be good if people with disabilities would be part of mainstream media and pop culture so that we can be seen as real people. More of this type of exposure will lead to general acceptance as we are still stigmatized by society.
Question: If you could pick one song as your theme song, what would you choose?
Damian: It would be “Roar” by Katy Perry. I just feel like that song has a sense of empowerment that I can identify with.
The FSACentral staff would like to thank Damian Gregory for taking the time to participate in the interview.
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