To read about the rest of the Culture Shifters, including TV executive Jasmyn Lawson and spiritual adviser Emilia Ortiz, return to the complete list.
Like many disabled people, Emily Barker has been in survival mode for far too long.
The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated millions of lives for more than a year, with disabled people dying at disproportionate rates and, more recently, being skipped for vaccines. Barker, a Los Angeles-based conceptual artist, believes it results from the same system that has discriminated against people with disabilities for decades. “The general public still has no idea what is actually going on for people with disabilities and doesn’t understand we have nothing to overcome due to our disabilities but have to overcome constructed societal barriers,” Barker, who uses they/them pronouns, told HuffPost.
Barker should know. They were diagnosed with paraplegia at age 19 and complex regional pain syndrome at 20 due to an accident. During the pandemic, they have faced eviction and multiple bouts of the coronavirus — both terrifying circumstances on their own but doubly so for disabled people with compromised immune systems like Barker. The disability activist uses their Instagram page to speak out about systemic ableism.
More than 28,000 people follow them on Instagram alone. The artist and activist were born in Southern California and grew up in Georgia. They moved to Illinois at the age of 17 and attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where they studied subjects such as painting, art history, and philosophy. In August 2015, they relocated to Los Angeles for the warmer weather and closer to friends and family.