In Conversation With Disability Rights Activist Isabel Mavrides-Calderón

By Alison Markman

New York City, New York

The idea that the lives of disabled people are less worthy than those of non-disabled people is the most damaging societal notion to both disabled lives and the disability rights movement (Photo Credit: Isabel Mavrides-Calderón)

If Isabel Mavrides-Calderón were given the undivided attention of lawmakers, she said she would push them to take the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) further and add more legal protections for disabled people.


Mavrides-Calderón is a sixteen-year-old disability rights activist who educates people about disability rights through social media and community organizing. She has run campaigns with the American Civil Liberties Union for the passage of the Supplemental Security Income Restoration Act, and she has worked with people holding events and protests to make them more accessible. Recently, she has also worked with the Australian Climate Strike.


Learning about the history of the disability rights movement sparked Mavrides-Calderón’s interest in getting involved with the cause. “[It] made me realize that most boundaries disabled people face are from society, lack of access, and systemic ableism, so that really made me realize the issue and made me want to get involved and join nonprofits.”


After her own diagnosis of a spinal injury, Mavrides-Calderón initially believed that her body was the problem. However, after researching the lack of accessibility in the US, she realized that “it was not my body that was the issue; it was society.”


The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated ableism-—discrimination and social prejudice against people with disabilities. Disabled people do not have many legal protections, which makes it possible for hospitals to deny them ventilators. “The ADA, which is the legislation that's supposed to protect disabled people, doesn't really go far enough to do that because we still have these policies that allow things like modern day eugenics to happen,” Mavrides-Calderón said. “I think the fact that this view that disabled lives are less worthy is in our laws and in our policies is really at the core of systemic ableism.”


When a disabled person who cannot work gets married, they can lose some of the benefits they need for survival, including Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income. In addition, loopholes exist that allow employers to pay disabled people salaries below the minimum wage. “[The loopholes] need to be reformed, but we're getting there. There's an act that's coming through right now,” Mavrides-Calderón said.


The idea that the lives of disabled people are less worthy than those of non-disabled people is the most damaging societal notion to both disabled lives and the disability rights movement, Mavrides-Calderón said. “This pity mindset is the most detrimental thing because when people think that our lives aren't worth living, they don't try to save them, or they do things that will hurt us. So, I think if people start viewing disabled lives as equal and not as tragedies, people will stop viewing disability itself as a tragedy. We would have an easier time getting access and progress,” she said.


Disabled people are one of the world's largest minority groups. Mavrides-Calderón said that more people should pay attention to disability rights, because one can become disabled at any point. “Disabled people are constantly changing the world, and the more access we give disabled people to inclusion, the more they can change the world and make it better,” she said.


To help support the disability rights movement, Mavrides-Calderón recommends amplifying the voices of disabled people. “A lot of organizations that are run by non-disabled people are really problematic. So, I think making sure that you're joining organizations, or doing things for the movements that disabled people are advocating for, is important,” she said.


Through her work, Mavrides-Calderón hopes to support the disabled community through advocacy and reframe society’s mindset of disabled people.