Don’t Dis My Ability event: education and awareness for the disabled community

On Nov. 17, in the UC, the Office of Accessibility Resources (OAR) and Disabled Students United (DSU) hosted “Don’t Dis My Ability,” an event for advocacy and awareness for students with disabilities on campus. 

The event included a resource fair in the UC Illusions room and a presentation and panel discussion in the UC theatre.  

The organizations present for the resource fair were OAR, DSU, the UP program, West Bridge Vocational, Division of Services for the Blind (DSB). Each organization had a table with pamphlets, giveaways, and representatives explaining what their organization does for the disabled community.  

After the resource fair, the event moved to the UC theatre for the presentation and panel discussion. The members of the panel seated at a table on stage were Dr. Ellen Sigler, associate professor, Janina DeHart, assistant director of OAR, Rei Feeley, president of DSU, Coralie Steenhuyse, DSU member and undergraduate student, and Kyle Douglas, a UP graduate.  

Sigler described what it was like having a learning disability during her time at school when support wasn’t offered, so she had to seek that out on her own. Steenhuyse talked about how she was bullied and harassed for being a cane-user on campus. Feeley said disabled students being harassed like this was one of the reasons why DSU was created. 

Feeley lead a presentation on the correct ways of language use when referring to a disabled person. 

Feeley explained how proper language use is important for the disabled community because it shows respect. She presented a list of words that should never be used in reference to the disabled community and suggested alternatives for some of them.  

For example, Feeley expressed that ‘special needs’ should be changed to ‘high support needs’ or ‘high assistance needs’ because it separates people from general society, and ‘special’ can be seen as infantilizing. Handicap is a word that the disabled community wants to get rid of because it has the connation of a person being less than, so ‘accessible’ is a better word. Other examples of suggested language alternatives are ‘burn survivor’ instead of ‘burn victim’, and ‘wheelchair bound’ should be ‘a person who uses a wheelchair.’ 

“In general, if the word has some sort of negative connotation don’t say it. Just think before you use a certain phrase and if it has a permanence to it like ‘bound’ or ‘victim’ that permanently labels that person, just stay away from that,” said Steenhuyse. 

Person-first language is putting the person first when describing their disability. An example of this would be to say, a ‘person with dyslexia’. Identity-first language is saying the person’s disability first. An example of this would be to say, ‘an Autistic person’. It is a good idea to ask the person how they would like to be referred. 

The Autism, blind, and schizophrenia community generally prefer identity-first language according to Feeley. For mental health disorders, it is preferred to use person-first language.  

Feeley explained, the word ‘disabled’ shouldn’t be feared. 

“I know you guys have noticed that we are called Disabled Students United, and we say ‘disabled students’ and ‘disabled people’ a lot. The disabled community doesn’t have that much of a preference. You don’t need to stray away from disabled people. You don’t need to be scared of saying ‘I’m disabled’ or ‘they’re disabled’ because it’s just a fact,” said Feeley. 

A highly suggested rule is not to use a disability to describe a common action that an abled person would make. An example of this would be forgetting something and saying, ‘I must have Alzheimer’s’ or being organized and describing it as OCD when not diagnosed.  

The last part of the presentation was about how society is not fully inclusive to disabled people. Feeley describes how people with disabilities must think more about how they navigate the world. For example, a person with a wheelchair might need to go another way to find a ramp which in some cases could take double the time that it would take an able-bodied person.  

“Every moment that a disabled person cannot access something that an abled person can is another moment that we’re living in an integrated society, that at first glance looks perfectly fine, but is not what we’re going for. What we want is full inclusivity,” said Feeley. 

The presentation ended and the panel was opened for questions and discussion from the audience. The panel members discussed their experiences with or as a part of the disability community.  

It was also brought up that the audience for the panel was small and mostly made up of Sigler’s class. Feeley added that we all obviously cared about the disabled community and wanted to learn, and that’s why we were here. But what about the people who are not seeking information about the disabled community? Is there some way to make this a part of a class or lesson like the gender unicorn lesson? 

WCU is continuing with providing education and support for the disabled community. Questions regarding the subject are on-going at this time.