Thought The Stigma of Disability Was Going Away Then I Met Some University Big Wigs

Dear readers,

I am sorry for my hiatus. I have been busy writing lesson plans for my education class. But I am back with tales to tell!

In this post, I want to talk about two different experiences I had over the hiatus.

A few weeks ago, I was asked about the Temple Disability Resource and Service (DRS) office to be apart of a student panel for the Disability and Change conference. Each member of the panel had a disability of some sort and we were asked to share our college experience. We met before the panel to discuss some talking points that would be covered. While we were waiting, the four of us just started talking and sharing our own experiences with disability. This just happened on the spot with no warm up oh get to know you activates. No it was my name is Matt and I have an LD. And I don’t know what it is but people with disabilities are just so comfortable chatting with others about their disability.

I guess the reason for this was that this was the first time that they informally met someone with a disability.  It is always nice to see these interactions happen because you can tell that people see that they are not alone in the world of disabilities. The meeting went great and we just continued to share our experiences and we wanted the audience to get out of the panel.

On the day of the panel, I got all dressed up looking very scholarly and took my seat at the panel. The audience was filled with educators, teachers, psychologist and, students in the College of Education. I was among my own kind. So the panel went off with a bang. Each of us shared our own experiences and talked about what it was like to have a disability. I can tell that the others was a little nervous about talking their disability for the first time. Since I have been talking about my disability openly through this blog and other mediums, I was cool and relaxed.

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(guy with his hands by his face)

 Here of some of the talking points I talked about:

–       I focused on changing the stigma of disabilities.

o   For example, I mentioned that the term learning disability is a little off because I learn fine. I have trouble with reading and writing but I learn fine.

o   Also a audience member asked what is college experience like for a student with disability? I mentioned that there is no such thing as a “typical” college experience. But people with a disability have an advantage because they go into college knowing exactly how they learn and what they need to succeed.

–       I told the audience how disability rights/acceptance is the 21st century civil rights issue. As educators we have to see student potential and provide them the assistance/support to succeed.

–       I talked about Eye to Eye and how we are using it as a way to establish and grow the disability community at Temple University.

–       Also I sprinkled in some funny stories that I wrote in this blog like how tough it is breaking up a relationship with a computer voice.

The audience had a lot of questions (a lot directed to me) about my experience and programs like Eye to Eye. It was a lot of fun responding to their questions and providing them some insight about disabilities. I felt like a disability celebrity in some ways! (if my 7 year old self heard that he would laugh). But I considered the panel as a success because it was the first time educators was hearing from people with disabilities. A lot of these people work on disability studies and are “professionals” in the field but I could tell they see a new face of the disability community! A strong face that is fighting to change the stigma of it!

So leaving the disability conference, I felt that Temple was beginning to change their perception of people with disabilities.

Then I was invited by the President of the University for a Student Leaders reception. So I was weighing if I should attend because the home opener of the Phillies was at the same time (they lost horribly by the way). But I decided to attend the reception thinking I should talk about disabilities, Eye to Eye and get some free food out of it. So I got dressed up again, wearing the same scholarly clothes that I wore at panel and went to the reception.

When I got it was like something out of the Omega Theta Pi house in Animal House. Everyone was dressed nicely, listening to classical music, and eating some nice finger food. They were talking about the fraternities, their community service work and their golf and tennis scores. No kidding several conversations I was in several conversations about rather golf or tennis was a better sport or how they lowered their score. I was their because I co-lead Eye to Eye and I talked about all the cool things we are doing. But it would have been weird talking about how we have a problem kids taking to many gushers in-between the golf conversations and their Yachats around the world.

And like my ADD self, I got bored and looked at the stain glass all around the room. During the reception, I was thinking that there must be some ADD people in this room as well. And I did fine ONE out of FORTY people. And we chatted about life with LD/ADHD and such. I also chatted about Eye to Eye and disability with a few big wigs at the University as well. But you can tell that they were not interest in the students but instead of the finger food. I did have one conversation about disability with someone but he talked about how it is a not well paying job. In addition he mentioned that he knew someone who welded (like with metal) with people with disabilities. But that is all he had to talk about the subject.

Not well paying! What the hell does that mean! First off I am not doing this for a pay check but because the conversation needs to change. We cannot keep seeing people with disabilities as a novelty but leaders in our community. It was concerning that out of the room of 40 people, only two had a disability. And no one saw this as an alarm for concern!

I left the reception seeing that we are no closer to changing the stigma of disabilities. Sure in education circles yes the change is happening. But when I mentioned to the big wigs that there is not really a disability community at Temple, they had no comment or interest in the subject. They all had a huge ego about themselves thinking that they are better than others. They still saw things as black and white. They still saw people with disabilities as a novelty instead of leaders and members of a community.

So if you are reading this Temple big wigs or Temple President hear is some advise. Open the door for events like this with people with disabilities. Sure they might not kiss your butt but they will give you a real, honest view of disability rights on Temple and in our world. That is who are the future leaders of the community not these ego people who play golf.

That is what I try to do this blog but I have seen that I have to do more to change the stigma that is connected with disabilities. But I know this, my community of Eye to Eye and the entire disability community at Temple will stop this stigma and these big wigs will need notice us because sure we might have a tough time paying attention but we are a force to reckon with.

Until Next Time,

MC

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