Letter to the Editor: Professor says diversity is key part of accessibility

To the editor:

On the whole, disability simulation activities are not high on my list of educative tools. Too often simulations generate little more than contrived sympathy for disabled people. Seriously, how can a few hours in a wheelchair capture life 24/7 as a wheelchair user?

However, last week's action by Students Educating About Ableism to promote education and access on this campus succeeded on both counts. Students with prior experience with "temporary disability" due to injury, and those with personal experience in the example of a disabled loved one who has been denied access on this campus made a powerful point. Administrators, students and Rochester disability activist Chris Hildebrant toured the campus and noted numerous man-made obstacles, including inoperable doors, locked elevators, narrow doorways and missing access maps in buildings. In addition, many who walked the tour witnessed powerful judgmental stares, overheard comments about the unwarranted "spectacle" that impeded their own "access" to MJ and spotted previously posted SEAA flyers that were defaced to read: "Why would you even come here if you're disabled?"

Although the Q&A addressed these challenges in full and underscored the need to include disability within the spectrum of human diversity, I believe that the interdisciplinary field of humanities-based disability studies could richly advance education on this campus. Following a cursory review of Geneseo courses that address disability, it appears that the majority draw on the medical model of disability - one that assumes individual deficit and pathology - and one bound by discourses of cure and care.

Writing in Slate magazine, distinguished Penn State humanities professor Michael Berube makes the claim that it is "no accident that so few people in public life understand disability issues or disability politics unless they happen to know someone with a disability." In fact, many Geneseo students report prior educational experience with disabled peers in their high-school classes where disability was included beneath the umbrella of diversity. Until the Geneseo community welcomes degree-seeking disabled students - with all their diversity in tow - into our classrooms, clubs, dining halls and dorms, attitudes may prove a far greater challenge to change than our topography.

Dr. Linda Ware

Associate Professor

School of Education