Rian Gayle, who serves as the assistant director of access and inclusion in WOU’s Office of Disability Services, has been involved with the Black Lives Matter protests across Oregon. Gayle, who is originally from Jamaica and is Deaf, has both presented and served as an interpreter at the protests, and has been an advocate for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) Deaf interpreters. We spoke with Gayle about his activism, his work at WOU, and the actions other can take to get involved. Check out his answers below.
What are your responsibilities as the assistant director of access and inclusion?
A few of my responsibilities are making sure our campus, academic programs and events are accessible to everyone at WOU, advocating for our students with disabilities, and also helping to make WOU a place where our community understands students with disabilities are always welcomed here.
How did you first get involved with the Black Lives Matter protests?
I was first involved after the Trayvon Martin shooting. I was working with a team to spread awareness about police brutality and the fact that Black and Brown people, especially those with a disability are at higher risk of police violence. I got involved again this year but this time as an interpreter providing access and also as a speaker at a few of the rallies. I am also working with community leaders and authorities to improve access for everyone.
Has there been a specific moment at one of the protests that stood out to you as particularly inspiring or motivating?
There are several, too many to remember them all but specifically I was moved by speeches by Shelaswu Crier and Julianne Jackson who are both Black leaders in Salem. I am also moved by the rallies in smaller towns like Silverton and Lebanon where the youths took to the streets despite the threats they received. They were nervous but at the same time brave. Then there was also the one in Portland with the “Don’t Shoot PDX” organization where a youth led march was interrupted several times by counter protesters but they kept their heads up. In Portland, an activist from NY made a speech and said, “we not only want to defund the police, we want them to refund the people. We have not been getting the quality services our taxes have been paying for, we want a refund!”
In the Clypian article, you mentioned that ableism is a factor of racism. Can you talk a little bit more about how the two are connected?
Ableism isn’t just about the oppression of people with disabilities, it’s also the about the discrimination of people based on ability. Because of racism, certain groups of people have access to better education, jobs, and living and that allows them to have the ability to do things and access things better than others. They then use those things they can access to make it more harder for BIPOC people.
Does your activism influence your work at WOU?
Yes, I am also encouraging and working with rally organizers to make their rally accessible. Advising them on what to do and how to find interpreters. I am also sharing with the audience that Black Disabled Lives Matter as well and that there is no way Black lives can be better without also giving focus to accessibility for Black disabled people.
You have advocated for more Deaf interpreters at the events, and specifically more BIPOC Deaf interpreters, who have a closer connection to the cause. How can others advocate for an increase in BIPOC Deaf interpreters?
They can advocate by changing their application or hiring procedures to make sure there are no discriminatory requirements or statements. Some jobs require a specific certification and one has to spend several years in school and a lot of money to get it. They can also develop resources and support networks that would help BIPOC interpreters thrive better and stay longer. Many leave after a few years because of lack of support and opportunities.
In an interview with OPB, you mentioned some of the disadvantages of mask-wearing. With masks likely to stick around awhile, what actions can others take to make communication less of a challenge for people with disabilities?
They can rely on making information more visible to read so Deaf people do not have to rely on talking to you in the stores to get the information they need; they can also rely on technologies – speech to text programs; they can wear clear see-through face coverings and basically be willing to work with people to meet the different needs.