Founding Executive Director of I-CREATE YOUTH Jessica (Jess) Kim interviewed Vic Riley, a business owner, special education teacher, and disability advocate.
Vic Riley is an educator, creative, and small business owner of 3E Designs! 3E is dedicated to creating quality tees that are geared towards disability advocacy, inclusion, accessibility, and allyship. Vic is bubbly, warm, and loves being with her students, but she is also fiercely passionate about accessible education. Because of those traits, and because of the love she has for her students, 3E continues to serve individuals with disabilities, as well as fellow teachers, moms, OTs, PTs, SLPs through graphic design on tees. She believes that something as simple as a tee can spurn intentional conversation and dialogue about advocacy. Her favorite part about 3E is connecting with other individuals with similar passions, and using a portion of proceeds to donate towards various non-profits that are helping make the world more accessible.
I-CREATE YOUTH is an organization that empowers, educates, and connects disabled youth through language in its various forms, from poetry to programming. We teach creative writing workshops, host fellowship and summer research programs, and curate monthly exhibitions featuring disabled changemakers, all in an effort to connect disabled youth and communicate their stories with the world. Learn more about us at icreateyouth.com.
Jessica Kim: What motivated you to start 3E Designs?
Vic Riley: Short answer: my students! As an educator who was allowed to wear t-shirts a few days a week, I started looking online for advocacy tees, but I never found any that felt like I’d wear with joy– they were often insensitive towards the disabled community (symbols, color pallets and materials that aren’t sensory-friendly, etc.), so I decided to start drawing on my iPad and turning those drawings into tees for myself and some teacher friends!
JK: Can you share some of your latest designs with me? (pictures are good too, with descriptions)
VR: My latest release is one that says, “We all grow at different rates and that’s okay.” It has these really happy little flowers that are smiling, all in pastels and staggered. All of my designs are based on my kiddos, and because of that, they are deeply personal to me. Growth is growth, and it’s so important to celebrate that for anyone. In my experience, oftentimes in classroom settings victories are hard won– it’s a collaborative effort and those victories are never too small to be celebrated!
JK: You’re also a special education teacher and have worked with adults and youth with disabilities. I’d love some insight on the experience you’ve gained from the profession.
VR: There are very few things in my life that have been as rewarding as teaching. Just like any job, it has its hard days, but you can’t beat the honor of being a small part in a kiddo’s educational journey. Because I worked in ECSE for many years, I was often a student’s first teacher, but I know I won’t be their last. I felt a great responsibility when it came to setting the tone of various components of school: a loving classroom, joyful learning, communication that works for each individual kiddo, let’s kids be kids… the list could go on! Creating a safe space to learn, play, and be affirmed is so important for kiddos! Being a teacher has also grown me personally– I’m a better individual and advocate because of my students. They teach me so much everyday!
JK: Why is it important to support disabled individuals in education?
VR: It’s important to support disabled individuals in education because accessible education should be non-negotiable. It is my job and great privilege to support students who need accommodations, because I believe I’m a small part in fostering independence. These students will one day be 1. out of my class, 2. adults, so it’s my goal to make sure they are provided the correct support and accommodations that will result in present and future success.
JK: Your mission inspires me greatly; who and/or what are your sources of inspiration?
VR: I have a handful of inspirations. First and foremost, my faith. I’ve seen the goodness and kindness of God in so many areas of my life, and I see the beauty of His workmanship in His creation, in my students, in the disabled community.
My students are also a great source of inspiration. They truly are my heartbeat. Because I was once a student in an inclusive and accessible collaborative classroom, I had a handful of friends with varying disabilities. I believe this is where my passion comes from, so going from being a part of an accessible classroom to fostering one has been really sweet.
JK: Last but not least, do you have any encouraging words of advice for fellow advocates/educators?
VR: Be committed to being a lifelong listener and learner. I know I will never be a perfect advocate, ally, teacher, friend, etc. but I also know that one of the best things I can do is to listen to the disabled community and to move forward in solidarity with them because accessibility matters. Change might be slow, but it starts with us.