Disability Pride Week misses the mark

Courtesy Image // Wm.edu

Aaron Albright is in the class of 2022 at the College majoring in philosophy. Email Aaron at amalbright@wm.edu.

The views expressed in the article are the author’s own.

The other night I was scrolling through my Instagram feed before going to sleep. In my “suggested for you” section I saw the page @disabilitypridewm, which is sponsored by Student Assembly. I was interested. I was born fully deaf, and have had cochlear implant surgery on both of my ears. I had my right when I was 18 months old and my left when I was 10 years old. I have spent my whole life doing my best to adapt to a hearing world. This has not been without its troubles. I’ve had consistent migraines, pressure headaches, and bacterial biofilms develop on the internal components within my skull. I wasn’t allowed to play contact sports. I could never hear when in a pool or the rain. Every member of my family was musical; I could never tell notes apart. Talking on the phone, attending concerts, conversing with friends in a dining hall: these are all things that are near impossible for me to enjoy due to my disability. In spite of my deafness, I am a highly independent and competent individual. I’ve found work, people and hobbies that I love. I am proud of who I am and I love the future I see for myself. I hold no pride for my disability. Being disabled sucks. 

My whole life, I have tried my hardest to not ever need help or accommodations. I was taught from a young age that the only way to be successful in a hearing world was to be strong enough to not need accommodations. I took this message to heart, but when I came to the College of William and Mary I saw information about Student Accessibility Services. I was so happy that there were finally opportunities to make things just a little bit easier for me. I made sure to have all the necessary paperwork and documentation of my disability prior to the start of my freshman year. I requested just a few things: notes for my classes and a visual fire alarm for my dorm room. I never got that fire alarm. This is a major safety concern for anyone who is not able to hear when they sleep.

I distinctly remember the frustration I had in my freshman year taking Business Statistics. The professor had a strong accent and even though she was the sweetest person I had met, I had so much difficulty understanding the lectures. I never received notes for that class until after the second exam. They were useless to me at that point. I am a second semester senior and to date, I have not received any notes for any of my classes, even when I ensure my accommodations are approved ahead of time.

When I saw that Instagram page, I was briefly optimistic. Though, that feeling went away pretty quickly. It being called Disability Pride Week rather than Disability Advocacy Week or Disability Recognition Week was the first strike for me. I understand that some people with disabilities are proud of their disabilities, and that is ok. But, I think that this nomenclature fails to respect the difficulty that people with disabilities have. Disability is not something that unites people in the same way sexuality or heritage might. I don’t think people can have pride for disability in the same way others can have pride for their gender identity, sexuality or other immutable characteristics. Disability is not something that unites me with others. I inherently struggle to unite with others because of my disability. My disability is why I have learned to be an effective interpersonal communicator. My disability is why I have learned to be such an active listener. There is no possibility for me to listen passively. I have become stronger in other areas because of the deficiency I was born with. I should be recognized for those strengths, not for the deficiency. 

Next, I noticed the events that were planned. Last Monday there was a social media campaign to highlight the work disabled students do on campus. It seems to me to be a massive misdirection of resources to highlight work being done by disabled students if the school cannot even meet basic accommodations for students who need them to do the very work that the school wishes to celebrate. On Tuesday, there was a Disabled Students Panel where they will discuss the question: what is it like to be a disabled student at the College? My short answer to that question is: it’s no different than a non-disabled student at the College, but a little harder. That’s what disability is. It makes things harder. 

On Wednesday: Art Therapy! Woohoo! Because art is relevant to disability of course! And, all people who have a disability need therapy, obviously. This just seems like a random event they threw in there to fill calendar space. If I were an administrator, I definitely would have planned to attend last Thursday’s ADA rights workshop. All public or private schools that receive federal funding are required under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act to provide accommodations to students with demonstrated disabilities. The matter seems fairly settled to me. It’s clear that the school is not committed to following these guidelines.

The only event I looked forward to was last Friday’s social event to meet other students with disabilities. I love meeting people, and people with disabilities have often had to figure out some unique ways to adapt to the world around them. This often allows for some interesting perspectives. The more perspectives we are able to consider in life, the more brilliant life will appear to us. In all, it seems that the Student Assembly and any department of the College attempting to represent students with disabilities has mostly missed the mark. Also, they didn’t even add alt text to their Instagram posts. 


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