Stories from the brainreels guest Talila TL Lewis

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[The podcast audio is at the bottom of the post.]

The podcast has been on hold for a couple months. I can’t think of a better episode to come back with than my conversation with Talila Lewis, a Black person with short hair wearing a cobalt blue button-down shirt, clasping hands together, and smiling for the camera.Talila “TL” Lewis who is a social justice engineer, activist-attorney, and founder and director of HEARD (Helping Educate to Advance the Rights of Deaf Communities).

We focused less on HEARD’s specific work here. So I want you to check out Sarika Mehta’s transcribed podcast interview on that. TL and I homed in on a few other topics. We talked about disability solidarity and a lot of unquestioned assumptions around disability and deafness and other identities that get marginalized. We also dug into disability and deafness and the school to prison pipeline and how TL re-envisions college classrooms by shifting students into the role of co-creators of their own classes. To wrap up, TL graced me with some art created by incarcerated Deaf people and free Deaf artists who visit and work with them. I’m so grateful for webcams! We took turns describing the images for you in the recording.

And speaking of video conversations, a shout out to HEARD for 2016. Their unflagging efforts for D/deaf and Disability justice within the carceral system led to some prisons installing videophone technology and a published article from one prison phone company, after years of constant work. The article talks about the critical need to not isolate D/deaf and Hard of Hearing people even further by leaving them with no means to communicate with family, lawyers, Social Security Administration, and more. If you have hearing privilege, have you stopped to consider what it might be like to be incarcerated with literally no means to communicate to the world outside or self-advocate in cases of abuse or extortion behind bars, or even attend classes that are mandatory to your release? Congratulations, HEARD, for this and your many ongoing accomplishments.

Youth of color stand together on outdoor stairs. They smile, hold fists in the air, and carry signs with #DeafInPrison and #DeafAccesstoJustice for the Deaf, DeafBlind, DeafDisabled, and Hard of Hearing youth at the national prison strike rally.And here’s a photo to enjoy of TL with a group of youth of color who are Deaf, DeafBlind, DeafDisabled, and Hard of Hearing at the national prison strike rally.

I urge you to follow up with more of TL’s work and work coming from TL’s communities. Here are some important places to start.

TL’s storify and Vilissa Thompson’s storify about the utterly shameful issue of RespectAbility (a white, non-disabled led disability organization, no surprise) getting Ford Foundation funding for their Harriet Tubman Fellowship. This is in light of RA being brazenly and outspokenly racist and unapologetic, using unpaid labor of Black and other people of color, paying white experts to write expert papers on the experiences of people who are marginalized (who are the real experts on their lives, by the way), and rounding it out by having the audacity to tokenize Harriet Tubman’s name for their fellowship. Search Twitter for #ProtectHarriet for even more coverage of the issues and their deep ramifications.

TL’s website and blog at

The syllabus for TL’s Summer 2016 college course called Disability Justice In the Age of Mass Incarceration: Perspectives on Race, Disability, Law & Accountability

The Harriet Tubman Collective’s open letter called Disability Solidarity:  Completing the “Vision for Black Lives”

And any of the following: #DeafInPrison, #DeafEd, and #DisabilitySolidarity

The audio for the podcast conversation is below.

Click this sentence for the accessible transcript for podcast episode #055.