Google honored queer disability rights activist Stacey Milbern in a Doodle on what would have been her 35th birthday on Thursday as part of its recognition of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.
The Korean American activist was an instrumental force in the disability justice movement. She was born in Seoul, South Korea, in 1987, and grew up in North Carolina in a military family.
Milbern began advocating for disability rights at 16, according to Google. And in 2005, she coined disability justice with other activists. The framework is "dedicated to ensuring the perspectives of traditionally marginalized groups within the disabled community weren't left out of the fight for disability rights."
Milbern, who had muscular dystrophy, continued her activism into adulthood. In 2014, she was asked to join the President's Committee for People With Intellectual Disabilities under President Barack Obama, serving as an adviser. She also worked as the director of programs at the Center of Independent Living.
"Stacey was a pioneer for disability justice and intersectionality. Her life experiences led her to empower and revitalize others. Stacey taught us that everyone is valuable, despite what society may say, and that each person has an important role to play," Milbern's sister, Jessica Milbern, told Google.
Milbern's friend, activist Andraea LaVant, said, "I learned so many things from her, but the lesson I will cherish the most is the art of 'taking up space'... of being unapologetic. Stacey never apologized for who she was. She never apologized for ensuring her needs were met."
In an interview in 2017, Milbern told the Disability Visibility Project that those with disabilities had to be resourceful in the world, The New York Times reported at the time of Milbern's death in 2020.
"The world literally isn't made to house us, it feels like sometimes," said Milbern. "So we get to be really creative problem solvers and, I think, aren't constrained to boxes."
During the same interview, she explained her hopes for the disability justice movement in the future.
"I would want people with disabilities 20 years from now to not think that they're broken," Milbern said. "You know, not think that there is anything spiritually or physically or emotionally wrong with them. And not just people with disabilities, but queer people, gender nonconforming folks, and people of color. And all of the people I think that society really pushes down and out."
The Doodle was designed by Art Twink, a disabled queer Bengali American artist.
"I wanted things that were important to Stacey be shown through metaphorical representation in the art. The house that she lived in, she brought together disabled people for the Disability Justice Culture Club, so the doodle shows a little party of disabled people with Stacy in the foreground having facilitated this amazing community," the artist explained. "Outside her house he had an orange tree and oranges are such a symbol of life and community for everyone."
Art Twink added, "When people see this doodle, I really hope they think about how we're a whole person made of all these identities -- her Korean American identity, queer identity, her disabled identity. They cannot be separated and, by making things as accessible as possible to everybody, we live in a way that honors Stacey.
Milbern died May 19, 2020, on her 33rd birthday, due to complications from surgery.