Through seminars, our school attempts to teach students important information that may be missed in classes; however, sometimes the school struggles with presenting this information effectively. Take last week’s seminar about disability awareness, for example. It consisted of a video of folks with down syndrome explaining what they like to do, and the next few slides had different celebrities with different disorders and disabilities. In the end, the presentation makes the general statement that disability doesn't define us, we are all Lancers.
This presentation is a good sentiment, but the execution of it was less than informative. It makes it seem like disabilities are a negative thing in someone’s life and are something to overcome.
This issue can be seen with two different celebrities shown in the presentation. Both of them gained their disabilities well into their careers, so it didn't affect them the same way if they were born with it. Christopher Reeves became a paraplegic after his acting career, playing the role of Superman. Similarly, Foxy Brown, an American rapper, became deaf well into her career. She opted for a hearing aid and had someone tap the beat on her shoulder while recording her music. While both of these lives were changed, their lives were not affected in the same way someone born with a disability is affected. Since they were both well into their careers, it makes the disability look like a small setback in their lives.
There were also very few physical disabilities in this presentation. This lack of representation irks me, as these disabilities are far more visible, with things like wheelchairs, canes, and guide dogs. Many of these things were glossed over, especially how these people deal with these disabilities and disorders.
Simply stating someone has a disability doesn’t make a point. It means nothing to a student sitting in a seminar they don't want to be in (no offense teachers). A better way to make this point is to go in depth. Okay, Tom Cruise has dyslexia—so what? It means that in school, he most likely struggled with reading and writing. In his current life, he may struggle with reading and acting out scripts. How did he change his routine and habits to help accommodate and improve his life?
Take a blind person for example. Their life differs because they can’t see the world around them. This means that they need help in order to navigate their world. A guide dog or a cane can be used. This is a deviation from their life if they weren’t blind. It’s important to present exactly how disabilities affect people, and how their lives are different from the average person. They use a guide, they read braille, and they use text-to-speech. These details humanize the person, making someone more empathetic.
This process can easily be translated into folks with mental disabilities. Michael Phelps has ADHD—so what? He may struggle to work productively. He may forget to put on deodorant, eat, or brush his teeth. These issues are what his disorder changes in his life. How does he combat this? He may write things down, take medicine, or go to therapy to help find ways to improve his life. Instead of just saying that he has ADHD, explain his life with ADHD.
A large issue that can be seen in the presentation is the stigmatization of disabilities. Many people see it as a flaw and something needing to be fixed. A quote from Eddie Ndopu, a disability activist, describes this issue perfectly. He states that “we don't talk about disability because we insist on perfection. And I think disability reminds people that actually, imperfection is more intrinsic to all of us than perfection.” (UN News)
While it wasn’t intentional, this presentation follows this mindset. Saying that we aren’t defined by our disabilities creates a negative connotation to having a disability. As if we were defined by disabilities, it would be a bad thing. Unlearning this kind of bias is important to destigmatize disabilities and truly spread awareness on disabilities.
These types of teaching can help students--and adults--learn how to better understand how disabled people live. It makes them people, not statements. Tom Cruise has dyslexia—so what?