Riva Lehrer is no stranger to difficult times. Growing up with spina bifida in the 1950s and ’60s, Riva experienced a very ableist world where children with disabilities were often hidden from public view. She very quickly had to learn to mask her own disability or acquire other identities to overshadow her “differentness.” She didn’t learn how to advocate or vocalize her needs as a disabled person until later in life.

It was through her art and writing, and joining the Disabled Artists Collective, that gave Riva a way to portray and publicly amplify the humanness of those with impairments as people like everyone else, including herself. In her acclaimed 2020 memoir “Golam Girl,” Riva exposes a still very ableist society where people either don’t want to see the disabled or can’t look past someone’s disability and understand that they are like everyone else—sisters, husbands, moms, professionals, lovers, and friends.

The pandemic has been yet another difficult era to add to Riva’s litany of lifetime challenges. As her world became closed up—both as a person with a disability and compromised health issues, and as an artist whose work relies on the thriving of the creative economy—she had to double down on her advocacy in both art and disability spaces. And it’s been exhausting. It’s within this context that I spoke with Riva, a day after she had received her fourth booster shot in an attempt to be able to start attending in-person art and book events that were reopening in her home of Chicago and elsewhere.

“The problem with disability advocacy means not just getting people to do attitudinal shifts, but to literally make structural shifts—putting aside money for building accessibility, presentations, for ASL [American Sign Language] and whatever other accommodations are needed,” Lehrer said. “It would be great if it was just about getting people to perceive differently but you’re asking for a lot more if you’re really asking for equity. I grew up at a time when it was terrifying to ask for accommodations, and you didn’t feel like you deserved anything. The younger generation has more of a sense of being entitled to the physical as well as attitudinal shifts.

Read the full article about the Disabled Artists Collective by Laura Martin at Americans for the Arts.