Q&A: Anais Keenon

Q&A: Anais Keenon 

Meet Anais, a new team member at Disability Rights Oregon with a wealth of experience in disability rights advocacy internationally.

We wanted to learn more about Anais’ world travels and her longtime involvement in the disability rights movement.

Anais, who is deaf, speaks both English and American Sign Language (ASL).

Watch our video interview with Anais in ASL and captioning, or read our Q&A interview.  

Q: Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from?

I’m an Oregon native, born in Portland and raised in Wilsonville.

After college I moved east to live in Washington, D.C. for about four years. It was both fun and inspiring to live in a city imbued with history, delicious international food, and a vibrant political scene.

However, as time went on, I realized it was time for me to take what I had learned and move back West. I returned to Oregon last fall and have been soaking up the forest air and independent bookshops ever since.  

Q: How long have you worked at  DRO? What kind of work do you do?

In February of this year, I joined Disability Rights Oregon as a new Community Work Incentives Coordinator for the Plan to Work program. It’s a mouthful, but essentially what it means is that I’m a benefits counselor.

I work with Social Security disability beneficiaries who are working or are interested in working, and together we map out the different types of work incentives that are available for them and the effect that working could have on their income.

Anais Keenon standing on Broadway with traffic behind her, wearing a black shirt, smiling into the camera

Anais Keenon, Disability Rights Oregon staff member

Q: Why did you become involved with the disability rights movement?

Early in my life, I resisted being “disabled”. I hated the cloying, suffocating reactions that my teachers and friends would have when they heard the word.

The word “disabled” for a child brought with it lower expectations for success in school and life.

To compensate, I became an extreme overachiever. My self-worth became tied to my grades and my success – or not – at dozens of extracurriculars.  

It took me years to understand that grades were not the only barometer for my success as a person.

It took me several more years – until I was at university – for me to realize my objections to “disability” had a lot less to do with the actual meaning of the word and much more about society’s reaction to and treatment of people with disabilities.

Meeting other people with all types of disabilities during this time made me determined to do what I could to support my community and empower us to be whatever we wanted to be, on par with everyone else.

I’ve been involved in disability rights for over seven years now.

Q: You’ve worked on disability issues overseas. Can you tell us where you were and what you were doing?

My first experience working abroad on disability issues was when I freelanced for a newspaper in Ghana, just before I graduated from the University of Oregon. I interviewed and wrote about people with disabilities in the capital city of Accra. Their stories sparked my determination to pursue international work.

My second experience was for a five-month internship in Germany and Kenya with CBM International, writing about a global inclusive education campaign that CBM was participating in.

Shortly after, I joined the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES). I began working with program teams and local disability rights partners in countries around the world to promote the political inclusion of people with disabilities.

I did that work for two years, and traveled quite a bit for that job, visiting diverse places such as Myanmar, Haiti and Indonesia.

This is part one of a two-part Q&A.


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