Google Doodle Honors Disability Rights Activist Stacey Park Milbern
The Korean American was a fierce fighter for the fair treatment of people who face discrimination.
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Stacey Park Milbern, who died two years ago on her 33rd birthday, is remembered as a dynamic leader with a knack for organizing people. Over her life, this pioneer in the disability justice movement also advocated for fair treatment of people of color, those who are transgender and gender-nonconforming, and people without housing.
As part of its Asian Pacific American Heritage Month celebration, Google is honoring the Korean American activist with a Doodle on Thursday -- Milbern's 35th birthday and the second anniversary of her death. Thursday is also Global Accessibility Awareness Day, which promotes digital accessibility and inclusion for people with all disabilities.
Milbern was born in 1987 with congenital muscular dystrophy at a US Army hospital in Seoul to a white father and Korean mother. Growing up, she embraced and celebrated elements of her identity that stood out in an evangelical Christian family in North Carolina, especially her sexuality.
She penned poetry and wrote about disability issues on a personal blog in which she described herself as "just your everyday queer disabled corean girl living in the south." She could walk as a young girl but eventually began using a wheelchair, which led to her increased disability awareness and activism.
Milbern began serving on disability rights commissions while in her teens and was instrumental in helping pass a North Carolina law in 2007 requiring that disability history curriculum be taught in schools. She criticized Jerry Lewis' annual muscular dystrophy telethon as categorizing "disabled people as nothing more than the objects of pity."
At 24, she moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, a region central to the disability rights movement. She continued to be active in the movement, with a special focus on securing health care for people with disabilities. In 2017, she protested proposed cuts to Medicaid, the federally funded program that provided in-home attendants and allowed her to live on her own.
When Pacific Gas & Electric shut down power to thousands of homes in response to the 2019 California wildfires, Milbern helped launch a grassroots campaign to provide critical aid to people with disabilities affected by the blackouts such as sharing crowdsourced survival information and making connections to rides and housing. In early 2020, as the coronavirus pandemic ramped up, she was working out of her Oakland home with the Disability Justice Culture Club, an organization she helped create, to distribute homemade disease-prevention kits to the homeless.
While working on the kits, Milbern learned that surgery to remove her fast-growing kidney cancer had been postponed due to shelter-in-place orders. She died three months later, on her 33rd birthday, as a result of surgical complications.