“I wish that people knew that the disability community is not a tragic, “inspirational” monolith; it’s filled with a spectrum of normal human experiences. While the disabled are bound as a community by the nature of “disability,” no one’s journey is like the other’s.”
As part of the Disability Awareness Campaign in the Spring of 2023, KSU students, faculty, and staff responded to a series of questions designed to help them share their experiences of disability and inclusion. This is Lindsey's story:
What does inclusion look like to you?
I often think about the animal documentaries that I like to watch, where the pack
keeps moving as stragglers fall behind and eventually are left behind altogether to
survive (or not) alone. Seeing scenes like this makes me reflect on how humans, with
their level of intelligence and complex body organization, are capable of a great
moral capacity that ensures that no stragglers get left behind. This reflection is
not made to suggest that the disabled cannot survive - we have adapted with innovation,
often on our own, and brilliantly survived this whole time. Nor does the reflection
purport an anthropocentric view where animals are “less than” humans; instead it’s
a musing on the particularities of human capacity and purpose - that humans are in
charge of caring for one another and are capable of doing so in unique, creative ways.
And caring for one another means taking concrete steps to ensure that “that one” (even
if it’s truly only one!) is not left behind in a classroom. To cater to the majority
of the students as a default with the thought “well, it’s just one disabled student”
(subconsciously or not) is a moral failing that underpins disability injustice.
Toward that end of caring for one another, inclusion is multifaceted: it looks like always factoring in a disabled student’s (or faculty / staff) needs as a conscious priority in order to ensure that the playing field is as level as possible, and to do so without assumptions - what a skeptic misassumes as “advantageous” may actually be what truly levels the playing field for the student. Inclusion ensures that the burden does not fall on the said student or teacher to figure out everything themselves, on how to survive alone as stragglers. Sometimes they don’t know what their own needs are or whether or not it is safe to speak up, so inclusion invites participation in a relationship, a fearless one with abundant, intelligent collaboration (and the more communal, the better!). Finally, inclusion looks like hiring faculty and staff with disabilities because representation makes an impact. I had a teacher with a disability at KSU for the first time ever in over a few decades of schooling, much to my astonishment. With grace, the professor educated the students about their disability on the first day of class and modeled for me throughout the semester what it's like to lead with an unhidden disability. Experiencing this professor led me to untapped courage that I didn’t know I had before.
I’ll be real - inclusion does require an investment, an investment of time (slowing down, asking questions, etc.), resources such as financial means or hired workers, sorting prioritizations, and so on - and while I often don’t state absolutes, to claim that time or XYZ resources do not exist, is simply a myth when humans have great capacity for problem solving. Humans have gone to the moon, proving that society is capable of going great, exhausting lengths - the question then, is what is our priority? To not invest in students (including faculty and staff) with challenges as a priority is to not invest in society. For schools to bet on students on the underside is to get the greatest return on investment for society - inclusion that ensures success for each in school means more workers and members of society who can contribute to reshaping our society in ingenious, thoughtful ways.
What would you like to share with everyone about a "Day in your life"?
I make things look easy and breezy as a deaf student (as a survival strategy, not something to brag about), which makes it easy for teachers, students, disability coordinators, etc. to forget about my ongoing needs. Over time, self advocacy creates the danger of being misperceived as “incessantly demanding” and becomes a solo burden. And sometimes the push for students’ self advocacy in schools can be misused as a tool to alleviate others from the work, responsibility, and moral courage it takes to be inclusive. That’s why I’m a believer in schools better investing in their campus disability offices, hiring faculty and staff with disabilities as well as designing courses, training, resources, and the campus grounds with thoughtful care to account for every possible scenario before it occurs - even if it doesn’t actually come into fruition. It’s better to be innovative, leading the way for other schools, and noted for forward-thinking than not at all.
What do you wish people knew about disability?
I wish that people knew that the disability community is not a tragic, “inspirational” monolith; it’s filled with a spectrum of normal human experiences. While the disabled are bound as a community by the nature of “disability,” no one’s journey is like the other’s. For instance, as a deaf person I enjoy taking out my aids that help me hear, and sink into silence. I describe it as if I’m dropping below the surface of water - it induces that same tranquil feeling. I wouldn’t trade this ability to ground myself with silence for anything - yet another disabled person on a different journey may not feel the same way about their bodies, which does not make their experience more or less valid or right versus wrong. I wish people could guard against their tendency to make stories about one another, filling in the blanks with assumptions that “fit”; the human experience is a vastly rich, messy landscape that invites humble inquiry and exploration, and ultimately acceptance of the unknown.