Sat. May 25th, 2024

Last week I had the pleasure of attending one of the “Activism and Action” panels with the theme of “Seen and Unseen (Dis)abilities.” During these panels, there were alumni and student speakers who talked about how to get involved and how to be a student activist.  

During this panel, “Seen and Unseen (Dis)abilities,” there were two panelists. One was Marisa Kofke, a WCU alumni who is working as an Assistant Professor of Education at Hartwick College whose work often centers around autism. The other panelist was Bryan Jones, who started at WCU in the 1980s and was an addictions counselor until he lost his sight 15 years ago. He returned to WCU to finish his degree and has had to learn how to adjust to being a blind student.

The first question asked of the panelists was, “How do you define disability?” According to Kofke, there are different perspectives on this question. She said, “I most often lean towards a social model of disability, where it’s the concept of looking around the person and seeing where are the barriers and things creating a disabling environment, and how we can break down those barriers.” She says it’s important to remember that the word “access” has to include everyone and all types of access, including neurodivergent people, for example. Just because you cannot see a disability does not mean it does not exist. One example she gave was how important sending a calendar invite is for her as someone with a learning disability. It is actually a form of access. An important question Kofke asked was, “What can we be doing as a society to support each other?” 

Jones’ answer is similar. He feels strongly about the social model of disability. He stated, “Since I’m probably at least a little bit older than most of the folks here, I know that in my generation, disability was seen as a medical issue or something that was specific to the person. It really had nothing to do with what society did, and so I think over time, there’s been — when I first became blind, I didn’t know that there were services for blind people, and I didn’t know there were groups of blind people that work together to help each other and to change the way blindness was perceived in the world. I just thought, this is all me, I have to figure this out on my own because it’s my problem.” He eventually met other blind individuals and participated in groups that helped him. 

Another important question to consider is, “How can we support disabled students?” Jones suggested being available to students and listening to them, and Kofke advised that teachers make sure their materials are as accessible as possible. She also said, “Embed intersectional experiences of disabled people in your content.” Check out the next “Activism and Action” panel on April 26 at 7 p.m., all about Campus Change and Sustainability.

Hally Everett is a fifth-year Media & Culture major with minors in Health Sciences and Entrepreneurship.

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