Emily Ladau is a passionate disability rights activist and digital communications consultant whose career began at the age of 10, when she appeared on several episodes of Sesame Street to educate children about her life with a physical disability. She is dedicated to harnessing the powers of communication and social media as tools for people of all abilities to become informed and engaged about disability and social justice issues.
How did you get started in accessibility?
Because I was born with my disability, my activism has always been informed by life experience. I became increasingly passionate about accessibility as each new phase of my life brought with it more access challenges. Inaccessibility was at first small and personal – for instance, being unable to climb stairs into my friends’ houses. But as I grew older, the stakes became clearer. Inaccessibility isn’t just personal; it’s a structural and systemic issue. I’ve constantly had to be an advocate for myself simply to navigate the world around me, so now it’s very much part of the work I do.
As a child, you were a featured performer on Sesame Street. How did that experience inform your future activism?
My time on Sesame Street continues to impact my activism each time I reflect on it. At the time, I was only 10 years old, and so I didn’t recognize the power of being a disabled person on a national platform educating people about my disability. But now, I often remind myself that if I could speak up and speak out in that way at such a young age, then I can be just as empowered to do so now. Currently, I use my platform, Words I Wheel By, to continue the activism that I first engaged in all those years ago.
You co-host the The Accessible Stall podcast. Why did you start the show and how does the podcast format differ from other forums for discussing disability?
Podcasting is such a great space to bring people into the world of disability. I started The Accessible Stall with my co-host, Kyle Khachadurian, because we saw a large gap in disability representation within the podcasting sphere that we wanted to help fill. The show serves as a platform for us to have open and honest (sometimes brutally honest) conversations about disability as we experience and perceive it. Unfortunately, podcasts are often inaccessible because transcripts aren’t provided for the audio, so Kyle and I have made transcription a priority. The Accessible Stall needs to be accessible to everyone.
What is an accessibility barrier that you would like to see solved?
I think the biggest barrier to accessibility is a lack of understanding about why access is so crucial. The first line of defense against inaccessibility is humanizing the problem rather than talking about it in conceptual terms. Sure, a two-inch step leading into a restaurant is an accessibility issue, but what does that actually mean for a physically disabled person? It means they’re shut out from a social gathering, from having a choice of where to eat. And the list expands from there, because access is about so much more than physical spaces. It’s about shifting mindsets. That’s why I started the hashtag #InaccessibilityMeans to give people a space to vent and educate about what the real impact of inaccessibility can be.