Today is Blogging against disablism day, in addition to the immigration/labor rallying day. So welcome to the folks visiting today for B.A.D.D.
Tomorrow in our faculty meeting we'll be discussing a new capstone course that has interdisciplinary possibilities, so immediately I started composing a Disability Studies syllabus in my head, complete with symposium at the end of the semester.
I have worked Disability Studies into composition curriculum for the past five years or so, and in Spring 07 I'll be teaching an MFA Craft & Theory course on Poetry of the Body (which must include a study of disability, in my opinion). I'm a nondisabled English professor at a university in Northeast Ohio, previously at the University of Illinois-Chicago, where I received a Ph.D. in 2003.
Experience has shown that most of my students:
a) Have more personal experience with disability issues than they had previously thought.
b) Have very good intentions.
c) Have no idea how to talk about people with disabilities, and no experience with the medical model of disability vs. the social model.
d) BUT after reading a few articles (Linton, Longmore, Bérubé) suddenly their entire perspective changes.
We begin by discussing the Christopher Reeve rising out of wheelchair ad from Superbowl of yesteryear, which of course has new poignancy since Reeve passed away. Then ensues the requisite argument over Reeve's strategies. Next a freewrite on past experiences with people with disabilities, most ending with "we just really need to help them."
Even tougher than explaining the lexicon is convincing students that Disability Studies is not about helping the poor people with disabilities, then rejoicing in their many stories of triumph, which make us nondisabled folks feel heroic (and of course damn happy that we don't have disabilities).
If anything, I want students to have greater awareness. When they enter a movie theatre, I want them to scan the room for accessible seating. When they are waiting at a bus stop, I want them to note the height of the curb, and whether the lift works when a passenger who uses a wheelchair wishes to board. I want them to remove certain rude artifacts from their language. I want them to think twice before deeming something or someone "normal."