Intersectional is the best way to describe the work Adiba Nelson contributes to our community. As a public speaker/author/writer, her work often ties in with her life as a mother of a child with a disability, which directly relates to her work as a disability rights advocate, which in turn informs her writing, and the whole cycle goes around again. But there is a through-line in it all: the fostering of more accessible and inclusive environments for all people, and the idea of rebellion as a form of empowerment, leadership, and growth. Or as she put it, “I like rocking boats.”
“Think about it, you have a boat in the ocean and it’s not rocking, it’s sitting in the ocean. Are you getting anywhere? Are you making any progress? When you rock the boat, and you kinda steer it in the direction it needs to go, you’re much more likely to reach your destination.”
“I’ll rock all the boats.”
For Adiba, the idea of inclusivity was part of her upbringing. Her mother was a special education teacher, and Adiba grew up in her classrooms, helping students, and not understanding why some children were being excluded from play. “Play IS childhood, it’s your only job as a child.” These experiences, along with the later discovery of a lack of representation of the disabled community in children’s books, led her to write “Meet ClaraBelle Blue,” the story of a young girl who, like her daughter, uses a wheelchair. But the main difference between this book and the few that she could find, Adiba says, is its focus on the child, not the disability.
Jump to 2017, and the birth of RocketChair Productions, Adiba’s company whose mission focuses on ensuring that visibility and representation of children with disabilities take top priority. Through RocketChair, Adiba and her team have continued to spread the word of ClaraBelle Blue, created a curriculum for educators looking to incorporate the concept of inclusion in their lesson plans, and even forged a relationship with Girl Scouts of America through the Girl Scouts VIA (Visibility, Inclusion, Accessibility) Patch Program. Much of Adiba’s time prior to quarantine was spent working in the schools themselves, either instructing or leading storytime, and ensuring students with disabilities were being included and represented.
Adiba sees disability rights as the ‘last bastion of civil rights.’ “If you were to build every building from today on with disabled people in mind, full accessibility, full awareness, full inclusion of disabled people, literally everyone could use it.” But this goes beyond buildings. She is working towards full accessibility in our entire community, on our sidewalks (“Tucson has an aversion to sidewalks that I don’t understand”), in the playgrounds where children with disabilities are often excluded, and in the ways, students are educated about disabilities and inclusivity. The University of Arizona College of Education, for example, only has one course on inclusivity, which she says leads to educators saying, “I’m not trained for that.” Her hope is to see programs like this expanded, eventually allowing for full inclusion in K-12 education.
Through it all, Adiba feels blessed and honored to be bestowed with the knowledge of purpose. “It feels like a lot to take on, but at the same time it doesn’t because I know It’s what I’m here for.” She admits she, too, is a work in progress, and often thinks of accessibility in terms of mobility, but says the trick is to be consciously aware of it and make the effort to grow. And if she can leave this world a little easier to navigate for her daughter, she knows she’s done her part.