The Associated Students’ Commission on Disability and Equality hosted an “Empowering Student Leaders Series: Reframing Disability” hybrid workshop on Oct. 15 in the MultiCultural Center lounge and on Zoom. 

The workshop was divided into two parts — first, a discussion on disability inclusion and second, conversation on disability justice. Daelyn Einhorn / Daily Nexus

The Commission on Disability and Equality (CODE) is a student-run group that strives to create a student-centered space to ensure the academic success of disabled students, enhance the well-being of students in the disabled community and empower students to develop meaningful relationships. 

The facilitators of the “Reframing Disability” workshop were third-year sociology major Sophia Lee-Park, external affairs chair; third-year communications and sociology double major Marvia Cunanan, internal affairs chair; and third-year statistics and data science major Jay Shreedhar, gender and sexuality equity outreach coordinator. 

The meeting began with a disclaimer that there is no singular, homogenous “disabled student experience.” Organizers noted that the workshop will not provide all of the answers for anti-ableism nor provide a step-by-step guide on how to better support disabled students. 

The facilitators also emphasized that the content and structure of this workshop was shaped by their personal lived-experiences as individuals of the disability community. 

“We are only a few students and do not claim to represent all students with disabilities and/or access needs,” Lee-Park said during the workshop. “Every individual has unique stories, suggestions and experiences.” 

The objective of the workshop was to “give students the language and resources to recognize ableism, and to ensure that all social and academic spaces are inclusive for students of all abilities,” the presentation read. 

The workshop was divided into two parts — first, a discussion on disability inclusion and second, conversation on disability justice. 

The first discussion began with the definition of disability, the social construction of the concept and how people should refer to those with disabilities.

“When we say ‘person with a disability,’ we’re putting the person part first and the disability part second. This is called ‘person-first language,’ which is quite self explanatory, and in certain situations, this is a great way to phrase things. You’re emphasizing the humanity of people with disabilities, and it can be used to discuss the marginalisation that comes with specific kinds of disability,” Shreedhar said. “But this phrasing implies that people can “have disabilities”, i.e., that we would be “normal” if not for some objective, clear-cut condition that qualifies as a “disability.” The social model of disability takes away the implication of objectivity here, and in fact argues that disability is socially constructed.”

“Disability is socially constructed — people with different access needs have those needs weaponized and withheld by certain people (known as abled because the system they have built effectively provides them with the ability to restrict access needs for others), and therefore become marginalized and oppressed under our social, economic, and political system,” they continued. “That’s why we as an organization refer to disabled people as just that — disabled, by a system that is designed to restrict and oppress rather than care for them.”

Participants were then divided into four Zoom breakout rooms to discuss their first interactions with disability, in what contexts they’ve experienced disability and how they learned about disability.

One participant noted how disabilities were negatively portrayed in movies.

“People with disabilities are often portrayed as villains. It is part of their characters, a villain in a movie, which is a terrible thing to be learning or internalising when you’re a kid,” an unidentified attendee said.  

The workshop then delved into different types of access needs and their importance.

“Access needs are something a person needs to communicate, learn and participate in an activity,” the attendee said. “Some examples are glasses or contact lenses, softer dim lighting ramps and elevators and closed captions … each of us has different access needs so being able to actually access conscious in our everyday actions to fulfill as many of these needs as possible is how we ensure that all students have access to equal opportunity.”

To conclude the workshop, the facilitators discussed disability justice. They explained the importance of disability activism and how in order for a community to promote diversity, equity and inclusion, it must respond to people with disabilities perspectives, experiences and difficulties.

“Perspectives are often neglected, directly or indirectly. To reiterate what I said, it’s not just about putting me physically in an activity, but it means giving me, and others, the space for all disabled people to meaningfully contribute to the conversation and to perpetuate inclusion in philosophy, while supporting us in the process. That’s why we are here today.”

Asumi Shuda contributed reporting to this article. 

Correction [10/28/2021, 2:52 p.m.]: A previous version of this article included a quote from Jay Shreedhar on the concept of person-first language when referring to people with disabilities that did not accurately present Shreedhar’s criticism of the term and cut off their quote before presenting the full context of their sentiment. The article has since been corrected to include Shreedhar’s full quote.