I have been explicitly involved with disability for many years now. It was in high school that I first developed my disabled identity and started to connect myself with disability studies and culture. Now at Sarah Lawrence College, where I am an undergraduate concentrating in disability studies (theory, science, psychology, history), I have staged several disability awareness exercises and spoken openly about dyslexia and other disabilities at various college events. I am also a part of a couple disability related groups on campus and have several friends who identify as having disabilities.
And yet, despite all of this experience with disability, many of the interactions I enjoyed this week during the orientation were new for me. How wonderfully strange it felt to be in a room full of so many who identify as having disabilities. How unfamiliar to live and go to work with a group of people who each have a disability, and all different from mine. How new it felt to hear from so many accomplished speakers with disability as central to their stories. How rare it was to be in such a large space focused on disability issues where it was safe to share stories and express opinions openly.
On the one hand, this wonderful array of new encounters speaks to the tremendous accomplishment of the AAPD program and the rare opportunities it offers. On the other hand, the fact that so much of what I have experienced in the last week is so new and unfamiliar, even for someone who actively seeks out disability related experiences, speaks to the very problem of disability in America. To name only a few things, it reflects the low profile that disability occupies in our society, the second-class position it takes to other issues in our world, the segregation people with disabilities face everyday in our system, and the many other challenges that stand in the way of the extraordinary organized cross-disability interaction which our program embodies.
As members of this program—which itself stands up defiantly against the unacceptable status quo—let us use our summer and our life’s work to make the wonderful experiences of our orientation not unusual encounters but things of the mainstream.