Editorial: Viewing disability as identity, rather than tragedy

The Editorial Board

In our society, having a disability is frequently met with pity. We at The Griffin would like to challenge you to re-evaluate how you view a person with a disability.Having a disability, whether a physical disability or a learning disability, is challenging..But, having a disability does not keep someone from living a full life. Anyone with a disability will tell you that. Our society though, often fails to recognize this.

For members of our campus community with disabilities, they’re often found in a position of being misunderstood, mistreated, or unaccounted for. Our student body will be empathetic to those with visible disabilities, but often unwilling to accommodate those with learning disabilities or less visible accessibility concerns. And when we do make accommodations, our student body may view them as accommodating to some, rather than what they truly are, which is creating a community that is accessible to all.

Learning disabilities, like dyslexia, are manageable, as are other disabilities, especially when certain accessibility accommodations are made. Did you know there’s such a thing as an accessible font? Fonts like Arial and Calibri are easy for everyone to read, while more traditional fonts like Times New Roman, or anything with serifs (letter feet) or other flowery aspects can be harder for someone with dyslexia to read.

Often, our student body doesn’t do as much as we should to make these accommodations. When printing posters or student-wide publications, sometimes students are hesitant to use accessible fonts because they perceive it only benefitting a few. In this case, accessible fonts aren’t annoying to read; they aren’t ugly fonts. They don’t make things inconvenient for people who aren’t disabled, they just make things convenient for everyone.

The important thing to understand is the importance of making things accessible, rather than making “accommodations.” Accommodations are helpful, and needed for specific situations. However, we shouldn’t view making something accessible for a spectrum of people “accommodating.” It shouldn’t matter if it’s five, or 500 people who will benefit from your change, what matters is that it works for everyone not just people who do not have that specific disability.

Elevators, for example. Bosch, Frisch, and Dugan have elevators so that our entire campus can be wheelchair accessible. This is accessibility. Is it oriented towards someone who needs that service? Yes. Does it possibly change how some people without disability live their lives? Yes. However, it is there for the person that needs it. They should be prioritized in being able to use the elevator, but if there is space, you can use it too.

Another thing, disability isn’t tragedy. That’s how we so often speak about it, though. The choice to speak about it this way isn’t always a conscious one, however. Much of the way we speak about disability comes from outdated rhetoric our society has used for too many years. When discussing disability it is important to mind your words, and how you refer to a person with a disability. For example, saying “a person who is blind” instead of “a blind person” labels someone as a person, rather than as a disability. This may seem nit-picky and longer than necessary, but we at The Griffin assure you it is necessary.

The Affirmative Model of Disability rejects the assumption that disability is negative and instead views disability as a part of someone’s identity. An affirmative orientation views disability as a difference that make someone unique and can be celebrated and that can enrich life.

The common narrative that someone with a disability can’t have a normal life or can’t do certain things is a dangerous one. Someone who has a disability learns how to live with their disability. They learn their limitations and they learn what accommodations they need to overcome those limitations. Often they take steps themselves to ensure these accommodations are in place for where they work or where they go to school.

If we continue to undermine the abilities of people with disabilities we undermine their ability to advocate for themselves and we undermine their ability to have the lives they want. Imagine constantly getting told that “you can’t” because of one of your characteristics. This once again reduces someone with a disability to their disability, when in actuality their disability is just one part of their whole identity as a human being.

We at The Griffin believe it’s time for us all to change our rhetoric about disability. Remember, not all disabilities are visually apparent when you first meet someone. For all you know you could know somebody on campus with a disability. You probably do.

So remember that disability is a part of their identity, and not a negative part. Remember to affirm that identity and their abilities, and remember to put the person first. Because everyone, no matter what, is a person first, and no one deserves to be defined by any other feature or anything else.


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