A Below the Radar series hosted by Al Etmanski — highlighting what history has overlooked, the contributions of people with disabilities
By Alyha Bardi
As The Power of Disability podcast series comes to a close, we are looking back on the series, recounting its beginnings, and encapsulating the insights of each guest. Host Al Etmanski spoke with six guests with disabilities who have been key forces of change — in arts, activism, policy change, and many other sites of social transformation and innovation.
The first episode of The Power of Disability was released on April 22, 2021. And while this may have been a happy surprise for your spare-time listening endeavours — our team had been hard at work with author, community organizer and social entrepreneur Al Etmanski for months prior.
Yet, in what feels like a blink of the eye, we came to a bitter-sweet end for this special six-part series — highlighting issues ranging from dismantling stigma to histories of forced sterilization, to solidarity across movements and the ongoing ableism in institutions today. Guests looked back on their own journeys and shared their understandings of, and visions for, the Disability Justice movement.
We hope you found (or will find) the series as insightful and enlightening as we did — while enjoying the compelling stories and moments of levity that arose along the way.
Intentions for the Power of Disability series
The Power of Disability podcast was born out of conversations with Al Etmanski, who has been a longtime collaborator of SFU’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement (SFU VOCE), and first partnered with us back in 2016, for the ‘unlaunch’ of his book, IMPACT: Six Patterns To Spread Your Social Innovation.
The production team at SFU VOCE partnered up with Al once again — this time to amplify some of the voices featured in his latest book, The Power of Disability: 10 Lessons For Surviving, Thriving, And Changing The World.
We worked in collaboration with Al to help transform his idea into six episodes, featuring in-depth interviews with some of the remarkable movement leaders and disability advocates highlighted in his book. And so, The Power of Disability podcast was produced by SFU VOCE, and ran as an original series of Below the Radar in the Spring of 2021.
Prior to the series’ release, Al Etmanski sat down with SFU VOCE director and Below the Radar host Am Johal. They spoke about the origins of the series and how it works as an explorative extension of his book.
“There's 100 plus stories in there. And it's packaged as 10 lessons for surviving, thriving, and changing the world. But it doesn't do justice to what I had researched. There's hundreds and hundreds of phenomenal stories. So the podcast profiles six of the more interesting people locally and internationally that I ran across in my research.”
Al went on to speak about the purpose of the series, saying that...
“The point is to have the listener appreciate people with disabilities as authoritative sources on justice, on political campaigning, on democracy, on citizen action, on art, on love, on sexuality, on social change, on astronomy. Just about every aspect of human endeavour.”
Reflecting on his time as a disability advocate, Al acknowledged that he had to unlearn a lot of things he thought he knew about disabilities. “People with disabilities are creators of the world that we live in.” He added that, despite the extensive contributions of disabled folks to our world, the creators of these innovations (or their disability) are often ignored — “so in a sense, disability is written out of history in two ways.”
Al also spoke to the future of the movement — and his place in it as an accomplice — pressing the importance of The Power of Disability podcast as another space to give people with disabilities the opportunity to tell their own stories and to lead the conversation.
“I think it's time for people like me, and big organizations, and people who are not experiencing the challenge — who are not living with it. It's time for us to step back. To use whatever privilege or influence we have to enable people to speak for themselves. In the case of disabled people, enough is enough. It's time for the power and presence of disability to be felt in the public policy arena, and for them to take it over.”
The episodes, the guests, the insights