Sociology professor draws attention to disability stigma

Linda Ware, professor of disability studies in the School of Education and adviser of student group Students Educating About Ableism, works hard every day to promote a society where we see disability as a something that is “just part of the range of human difference.” Ware strives to transform the perspective of her students so that they recognize students and people with disabilities. Ware’s passion stems from her own work teaching in different places across the country, from El Paso, Texas, to the City University of New York in New York City. She started off as a middle school teacher in El Paso after graduating from the University of New Mexico.

After working with students who had disabilities, Ware took it upon herself to change the attitudes of the community that surrounded them. She went on to continue her doctorate at the University of Kansas and taught at the University of New Mexico, the University of Rochester, Syracuse University, CUNY City College and then at Geneseo.

Ware teaches two interdisciplinary disabilities studies: Disability INTD 288 and INTD 105: Disability in America, one course in women's studies: Bodies that Matter and one course for junior year education majors: Art, Education and the Community. When it comes to her students, Ware said that she “tries to get them to re-imagine disability.”

She stated that education students grapple with the tension of becoming a teacher looking to find defaults in students with disabilities versus becoming a teacher who teaches both disabled and non-disabled kids that there is nothing wrong with their disability.

“What I’m talking about is society’s reaction to disability,” she said. “It doesn’t matter what disability, society’s reaction is what creates the disability problem.” She further explained herself by stating that as soon as we mark a body as different, we create a barrier to understanding.

Ware encourages her students to take a different stance on how they view disability and challenges them to think about the disabilities of others in more positive ways. Ware believes that the isolation of those with disabilities is the same practice of core injustice, but that people call it by a different name.

“Putting kids in special education does not make progress,” Ware said. By isolating these students, the system is only increasing their unemployment or underemployment rates.

All of the problems that Ware tackles when she takes on projects at different schools and universities can be daunting; creating real change takes time. Ware stated that it is a hard system to push back against even after all her years of experience.

“You have to have a principal that sees this as a leadership program,” Ware said. “I want to imagine a future that doesn’t make fun of people with differences.”

Despite any obstacles she faces, Ware definitely has the support of teachers from across the country and around the world. These teachers have the same ideas about disabled students and inclusion.

Ware has been teaching at Geneseo for nine years and is currently working on books discussing her ideas about accepting students with disabilities