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“Understanding Ableism” Creates Awareness During Disability Advocacy Week

Roughly 21 percent of undergraduates and 11 percent of post-baccalaureate students reported having a disability in a 2019-2020 survey conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics. In this survey, a disability was defined as “those who reported having deafness or serious difficulty hearing; blindness or serious difficulty seeing; serious difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions because of a physical, mental, or emotional condition; or serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs.”

Although college students with disabilities represent the minority,for those who do, it is difficult for them to succeed in academia without proper accommodations. Therefore, to ensure the opportunity for every student to thrive in their academics, it is necessary to understand what ableism is and how to avoid it.

The definition of ableism is “discriminationin favor of able-bodied people.”

In honor of Disability Advocacy Week at UofM, Disability Resources for Services (DSR), in partnership with Student Diversity Ambassadors, held an event titled “Understanding Ableism” in the UC Memphis room on March 27.

At this event, there was a group of panelists made up of three students with disabilities named Diana, Charlie and Nova, along with Professor Savage, a UofM faculty member and advisor. Below are some commonly asked questions about ableism answered by the panelists.


1. Do you embrace disability as part of your identity?

“Yes, because there is nothing wrong with people knowing about my disability. It is hard to hide my disability because it affects my everyday life,” said Diana.

2. How has having a disability impacted your experience as a college student?

“It has impacted me in more ways than I can explain,” said Diana.

“I was diagnosed with Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome a year and three months ago. What impacts methe most during school days is the heavy doors.I physically cannot open the door. This past semester, I’ve had to stop doing what I want to because I am so tired every day. I was not able to go home without passing out multiple times,” said Charlie.

3. Tell us about a time when you had a negative experience in higher education due to a lack of access or because of ignorance. How did you respond and was that issue ever addressed?

“In college, I haven’t had many issues, but I had an experience back in high school where I had a teacher who was rude about my need to read lips and she put me in the back of the classroom. That was the first ‘D’ I ever made and the only ‘D’ I ever made in a class,” said Charlie.

“I wish I could somehow explain to students what fainted in front of several of my classes and no one really knows how to respond,” said Nova.

4. Tell us about a time when things went smoothly, and you felt supported and included. 

“I had gotten a new diagnosis and my English teacher freshman year let me know that I was going to be okay and not to worry about making things up or failing her class. She just handled everything well and was emotionally available and empathetic towards me,” said Diana.

“Every teacher I’ve had this semester has been very accommodating,” said Nova.

5. What changes could be made to make school more accommodating?

“My specific thing is getting the disabled doors to work. Specifically in the psychology building since I am there often because of my major,”said Charlie.

6. How does being disabled affect your experience in college?

“Because my disability changed my whole life, I am very thankful for the accommodations at UofM. Accommodations changed my life,” said Charlie.

Events like this one are important for everyone to understand why inclusivity for disabled students is significant. These panelists shared their personal stories which highlight the need for greater awareness surrounding disabilities. Though these students deal with their share of challenges, it is consequential to emphasize the positive impact that proper accommodations and empathy can have on these students.

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