Don't work on me but work with me. An Interview with Eric Matthes on Disability Pride Month.
We sat down with Eric Matthes (he/him), Community Advocacy Coordinator for The Arc of King County, an organization that promotes and protects the rights of people with disabilities, to talk about July’s Disability Pride Month.
One of the first things Eric would like you to know is that he is a person first and his disability is secondary. He likes to stay healthy, enjoys walks, watching movies and collecting movie soundtracks. He enjoys being part of the team at The Arc of King County and civic engagement. When asked what matters most to him, Eric explained, “talking to self-advocate and the importance of having friendships with people and having that moral trust.”
Connection to others was a theme that kept coming up during our conversation, especially when it comes to his advocacy work. For Eric, a sense of belonging is important to creating more inclusive spaces for people with disabilities. He explained that we could do this by “just being welcoming and letting people know the organizations can be open to you. And listening is one of the most important things to me. I think organizations should listen and understand what people are asking for.” When engaging with people with disabilities, Eric “wants people to see us as individuals and as a person first when working with us.”
Eric is a big proponent of self-advocacy and it’s important to him that people aren’t just trying to help, fix, or do things for him. He believes that in order to support people with disabilities, we should defer to the people who know first hand what it’s like because people who don’t have disabilities don’t really understand their needs. One of his favorite sayings is “Don’t work on me, but work with me.”
While he thinks “being independent is awesome,” Eric believes that a support system is important, whether that is a mentor, an ally, friend or parent to provide encouragement and that “having that push every now and then is refreshing to someone like myself to be able to do something that maybe is different.” But Eric adds that it’s important that people with disabilities decide for themselves what they can or can’t do and to make their own choices. Eric values making his own choices and does it by being intentional and grounded. He explained how he makes good decisions by “taking a moment by closing your eyes and just breathe, and listen to your heart and your own feelings.”
We ended up talking about movies and one of his favorites is The Karate Kid. We talked about the lesson the teacher character, Miyagi, imparts on his protege, “stop a moment, breathe and open your eyes. And then you feel a whole lot more focused and relaxed at the same time. Then you’ll roll with the punches and take on the day.” It’s a lesson that Eric carries with him and applies in his daily life. We both agreed that organizations that give people opportunities to stop and take a moment to breathe would be beneficial to everyone.
I asked Eric what Disability Pride Month means to him and he explained, “It reminds me how unique I am in having Down syndrome, one extra chromosome in my body, that makes me me. And it feels really good to be able to have a disability because I am a person first and my disability secondary. I just really like being a part of the disability community as well as the Down's Syndrome community. I feel included through different organizations like The Arc of King County for sure, and People First of Washington as well. I definitely love myself and I appreciate putting in my voice as well as other people's voices and where we work as a team.”
For resources, Eric recommends:
The Arc of King County - Good resources for different programs for people with disabilities.
Disability Rights Washington - To learn about self-determination and “people first” language.
People First of Washington - Resources that accessible and easy to navigate.
He also understands that getting on the internet can be challenging for some because of the inequity of access. He recommends going to the library to access books or a computer.