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12,000 yellow napkins aim to spark conversation about disability

Shangri-La’s Yellow Napkin Project, in partnership with Columbia Bank, aims to increase the community’s disability literacy. During Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month in March, distribution partners, mainly food service establishments, throughout Marion County are distributing yellow napkins that feature five disability awareness and etiquette messages.

Shangri-La started the Yellow Napkin Project in 2022.The original pilot project included 2,500 napkins distributed mainly in Salem. Shangri-La and its 20+ distribution partners will distribute 12,000 yellow napkins this year.

While last year's campaign focused mainly on Salem proper, this year's campaign will reach members in some of Marion County's more rural communities including Woodburn, Stayton, Mt. Angel, Brooks, and Silverton. Additionally, this year’s napkins feature messages in English and Spanish. Distribution partners received their batch of yellow napkins the last week of February and are distributing them at various points throughout March.

The napkin messages were selected using input from individuals with disabilities served by Shangri-La and direct support professionals (DSP) who support individuals at home, at work, and in their community. Several messages also mirrored sentiments from “Demystifying Disability” written by Emily Ladau, a disabled person and disability rights activist.

“This year, we sought input about the napkin messages from the individuals in our programs, so they had the opportunity to tell us what they want the community to know about them and their experience as a person with disabilities,” explained Ashley Erb, director of community engagement. “Additionally, we know many DSPs have insights as to where our community needs to improve its disability awareness, actions, and behaviors. We also saw the yellow napkins as an opportunity to echo some of the information in Emily’s book.”

Just a few weeks into March, the project has already sparked many conversations in the community -- both in support of the messages/project and with some expressing dissatisfaction that some messages didn't go far enough to support the disability community.

2023 Yellow Napkin Project Messages

  1. No matter how significant a disability is, a person with disabilities can still learn, think, and feel. With the right support, people with disabilities can express themselves, participate in their community, and make their own decisions.

  2. Make eye contact and speak directly to a person with disabilities, not their companion, aide, or interpreter. If communication assistance is needed, then the support person can help facilitate.

  3. Not all disabilities are visible. In fact, the majority of disabilities are invisible. As such, it is best to skip assumptions about what disability ‘looks like’ and focus on incorporating disability etiquette and prioritizing accessibility in all interactions.

  4. Avoid outdated terms like retarded, crippled, challenged or handicapped. ‘Person or people with disabilities’’, ‘disabled person or people’, ‘disability community’ tend to be more preferred language.

  5. Always presume competence. Don’t assume people with disabilities are incapable. Always ask before providing help. Helping without permission might do more harm than good. If you are unsure of how to help, just ask.


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