Last Fall, I was talking to Nicole Lynn (Perry) Ó Catháin. You may remember Nicole from The Feminist Financial Handbook. So many readers became invested in these women’s stories, and Nicole had the phenomenal idea to do a series catching up with them and what their lives look like five years later. This is that series.
If you’d like to support this series, please make a donation to the Lavender Rights Project.
If you haven’t read The Feminist Financial Handbook yet, buy it here so you can get these women’s backstories!
We’re kicking off the series by catching up with Heather Watkins of Slow Walkers See More. We haven’t totally been out of touch with Heather — she contributed to the Intersectional Money series during the pandemic, and has been very active in media interviews on other outlets.
First of all, how have you been, Heather? Any personal or professional life updates you’d like to share with readers since 2018?
Oh so much has happened since that time that runs the gamut of experiences and emotions.
From the loss of my dad who lived with us and under my care as his primary caregiver to the pandemic and more loss of family and friends.
There’s also been quite a bit of balance with large bouts of joy too like the many opps for advocacy. These include disability-related articles I was in or wrote, podcast interviews, more projects and advisory board activity.
I am also a peer-researcher for an upcoming study on pregnancy experience and outcomes for Black and Latina women who have physical disabilities. Oh and last summer we (my daughter and I) filmed for an upcoming documentary that I believe will be out sometime this year.
I am so sorry about your father and the loss of friends and family. While I know this is an experience so many of us have been through in one version of the other over the past three years, that does not erase the enormous pain of personal loss. I am always thinking of you as you carry this grief.
And please do let us know when that documentary comes out. We’d be thrilled to see it.
I feel like there’s so much to talk about in the space of disability finance over the past few years. Let’s start with the positives? For example, the ABLE Age Adjustment Act passed which will let more people build up sheltered assets starting in 2026. Some states, like California, have been reevaluating their asset limits for some programs like Medicaid (Medi-Cal.)
Are there any other big newsworthy stories you’re tuned in to that have been positive movements?
Yes, I think the student loan debt forgiveness plan is a step in the right direction. This would impact so many disabled people, especially of color who’ve taken out student loans to finance their education. Many of whom already live at or below poverty level and student loan forgiveness would help free up debt and could allow income to be directed toward other quality of life aspects.
Now we all wait with baited breath at the upcoming SCOTUS decision on whether that decision will be overturned.
Let’s hope that decision goes the right way! The case they’re ruling on is the $20,000 forgiveness for everyone — regardless of disability status. Though the program could have an outsized impact on disabled borrowers in particular. There is also a separate disability discharge program that is not impacted by all the hullabaloo — in fact, the disability discharge program is slated to get even better in July 2023.
Unfortunately, we can’t talk about the past few years without also talking about the negatives.
America seems to have embraced a type of passive eugenics when it comes to high-risk people and this pandemic. When people can’t go out into community spaces that have been made inaccessible, it makes it hard for them to earn an income or even access basic, vital services in the community.
There’s also an even larger shortage of workers in a lot of these service positions, making it even harder to access disability services than it was even a few years ago.
I’m wondering what your thoughts on this over the past few years have been. And, if you’re comfortable sharing, how it has affected you personally at certain points?
Yes, so much of this has deeply-impacted large swaths of the disability community (apparent, non-apparent, chronic illness) in many ways you’ve outlined.
I have a congenital form of muscular dystrophy that impacts my mobility and now impacts my respiratory muscles. I’ve been using mobility aids for over 15 years now and also a ventilator to assist breathing when sleeping, otherwise I could risk respiratory failure.
So you might imagine the level of anxiety hearing about a virus that can impact lungs, organs, brain function, energy levels, etc. Also, thinking about a point during the lockdowns in 2020 during this ongoing pandemic where it became difficult to get my usual grocery delivery. I typically order online for ease and convenience and what would usually take a day or two to receive suddenly took weeks to get delivered.
I also made sure to take all precautions and still do, mostly by staying indoors and not going out unless completely necessary. Telehealth is a great option as well as in-home vax programs and blood draws by mobile labs. Those options gave me more peace of mind.
It wasn’t lost on me at all though, that far too many folks, especially disabled BIPOC folks who live in congested city, rural, and small towns were and are still dealing with degrees of inaccessibility.
Also, there are many disabled folks, especially of color who may be caring for self, have caregiving duties, and live in multi-generational households with little or no room to isolate and/or quarantine when someone becomes ill.
We heard quite a few of those stories circulating and can only imagine the numbers of the ones we don’t hear about. Still far too many events and orgs dropped mask requirements and with many defaulting back to in-person as if we’re all suddenly going to snap back to pre-pandemic days with business as usual.
Newsflash: That ain’t happening folks.
Hard agree. Overall, do you feel like there’s been more positive or negative change in this space? Or is it a two steps forward, one step back situation?
In some ways, yes, when we consider things like the option of remote work and telehealth, hybrid events where attendance can be virtual from the safety and comfort of home.
It does concern me a great deal that we are ebbing back to more in-person requirements and not requiring masks because it doesn’t take into consideration many disabled persons as a demographic that might participate and be valued like nondisabled peers/counterparts.
Are there any specific issues we haven’t already covered that are important to pay attention to in this moment when it comes to disability finance?
Yes, I’m thinking of how inflation is a factor for nearly everyone but especially those of us who hail from marginalized identities and communities and live at or below the poverty level.
Many disabled persons who might’ve been getting a small boost in assistance have seen the help starting to dry up. Things like SNAP/EBT emergency help are ending this month for many individuals and families in 32 states.
Imagine how many folks will have to make decisions or whether to buy enough food and/or forego much needed medicine.
Also, how it will impact rental payments and mental health?
That’s a lot of destabilization and I don’t think the expansive lens and wider scope is used when these kinds of policy decisions are being made. It’s those kind of far-reaching ripples that we need to bear in mind.
That is a really important point. How are these experiences further shaped by being a woman? Or even more specifically, a Black woman in America?
I think of my experience as a Black disabled woman, mother, primary caregiver for one of my parents who lived with us until their passing almost 4 years ago. I was caring for myself, and members of my family, and doing my advocacy work.
When I was not feeling well or being fully-supported that affected my ability to run the household smoothly and provide better caregiving. My advocacy work would be put on hold or moved around to accommodate fluctuating levels of mobility and energy that was drained elsewhere.
I know many women who live in this continuum, especially Black and brown women who are often also disabled (apparent, non-apparent, chronic illness) and tasked with so much responsibility due to the complexity of their lives.
Are there any words you’d like to impart on other Black disabled women that may offer hope or respite as they navigate these circumstances and systems?
Know that you are not alone. Try to connect with other Black disabled women (apparent, non-apparent, chronic illness) to help build a community and support network born of commonality.
This will help with finding and exchanging resources, tips, information, and frustrations because that’s important too.
For people who are reading and want to become better allies, what do you think it’s important for them to know, do, or not do?
I think it’s important that allies play a supportive role and remember that they’re not the central voice.
It’s good to be mindful that first-person sources with lived experience are generally the best to inform about their lives and how they are impacted by quality of life measures and policies.
Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and expertise with us — today and at various points over the past five years! Before we go, do you have any parting words for readers?
Yes: Try to set your own metrics for success. It will be customized to fit your needs and reflect your pace and personal benchmarks. There’s no need to compare with your peers, disabled and non-disabled.
Remember, you have autonomy and are the expert of your own experience.
Thank you so much to Heather! Be sure to continue following her work moving forward on Slow Walkers See More.