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Reflection on semester

cds4's picture

This statement feels overused and I'm a tad worried it'll cheapen the sincerity of my sentiment however it's how I feel, Critcal Disability Studies has easily been one of my favorite college courses. When I fist came into the class, disability studies and disability culture were two things that I had never really spent to much time thinking about. I think because I considered myself to be a relatively open and non-judgmental person I thought that  I didn't need to consider abalism because I wasn't practicing it myself. It wasn't till we got into the course that I realized how many of my preceptions of disability culture were not only inaccurate but offensive in a lot of cases. I had never though that genetic manipulation technology could ever be considered a threat to the existance of a culture. Additionally, I think subconsciously I would classify non-traditional forms of communication as a reflection of lower intellegence. Or, I would be confused why people with disabilities weren't just made to communicate in the ways that I classified as "normal". Looking back on this head space I am more then a little horrified. No one had ever explicitley told me that this is how I should view disability, however I was able to construct these hard and hurtful opinions just from my social environment's attitudes towards disability. 

The assignment that really jouseled my understanding of the faults of my preception was the YouTube video, by a women with autism, on what her means of communication looks like. It was an absolutely beautiful video and it really opened my eyes to the fact that in the same way my written and verbal words have more nuance meanings behind them, other forms of communication have those same meanings. To say that one means of communication should be used above another is devalue that underlying abstract value. Not only change the way in wich I interact with people who communicate differently then I do, but it made me want to learn their forms of communication as well. I felt this urge particularly when we watched the documentary on deaf slam poetry. Since there are multiple meanings attatached to each sign, the poem develops this depth that verbal language just can't mimic. I feel like in not learning these communication forms, I'm missing out on intricacies in my own life. 

Since begining this course, not only has my awareness of my own prejudices skyrockete, but I am much more conscious of how my environment isn't that in tune with disability culture. This has actually been a bit of a difficult transition because I now notice when my freinds and loved ones express their own prejudices, and I still don't really know how to correct them. In a class room, it's much easier to face your own ignorances because you can do so without revealing to others that you had them in the first place. To have someone correct you is much more of a personal interogation of your morals and views. I am still trying to figure out how to be an advocate for disability rights without disrespect anyone I care about. So far I'm finding that the best appraoch is not to wait for a moment when a friend expresses an abelist sentimage, but rather to make disabilities studies an active conversation during our interactions so that when we do come across hurtful prejudices, we can dissect them togeather instead of one of us assigning blame. I know I am still stumbling across new prejudices of my own all the time. 

I think the biggest lesson I will take away from this course is that I can't ever take my understanding of something to be true. I have to constantly revisit it and reevaluate it inorder to dissect the faulicies and biases I used when creating it. I though I was firm in how I understood and felt about the Bible, intimacy, freak shows, crispr, American Sign Language, and so many more topics, however this course has completely turned all of that around. I think I feel less aware of disability studies now, then when I first started the course, because now I am just more aware of how much there is to know. 

As for the pandemic, although I wish we could have finished off the semester at campus in our classroom, I am happy that were were learning about disability studies when it struck. Having encouragement and space to think about how this crisis is effecting people whose issues typically fail to get mainstream media attention helped me avoid viewing the pandemic solely through the lense of my own narrative and problems. Now when I watch the news, I am much more acute  to how the new policies and procedures that are being debated will effect disabled communities. Before when I would watch it, I would only think about how it would effect me.  As the pandemic continues, it is becoming increasingly evident how nessesary it is that our society drastically changes the way it views disability. The fact that people with disabilites can be so casually trashed on public news because 'their immune system vulnerability aids the spread of the virus' is absolutely ridiculous and needs to be stopped. 

Unfortunately I left my CCW notebook at school however I had typed out some of my responses that I printed and pasted into the journal. Here they are:

- Before taking this class, belittlement of disability wasn’t something I was socially conscious of, I presumed that it didn’t happen and that was that. This week alone though, I was shocked to observe individuals, whom I respect and enjoy the accompany of, disparage disabilities in conversation. Primarily, the speaker was reacting to being accused of having a disability in an aggressive manner. My boss told me that when she was in elementary school she was a quite child. Her teachers where concerned asked her parents to enroll her in special-education classes. My boss was indignant and ended the story by accusing her former teachers of thinking of her as “dumb”. Adjacently, a close friend of mine was explaining to me that his living hall thought that he was a “pot-head” that did poorly in school. He jokingly said that this wasn’t the case because he wasn’t a “degenerate”, a comment meant to be humorous but that came off as insensitive. I don’t think either of these people would have made a parallel comment about race or sex, however since it was about disability they were quite cavalier about it. Both situations shocked me because I know that Haverford heavily identifies as a socially progressive campus. Why then do we have such little dialogue about disability discrimination? Additionally, why have normalized the belittlement of individuals with disabilities?

 -Today I had lunch with some of the artists from CW and I spent the majority of the meal talking to Joyce. That women is a complete ball of energy and positivity, my word. Although I couldn’t completely follow along with the story she was telling me, I was struck by how good she was at storytelling as an action. She knows exactly when to inflect her voice, to emphasize funny parts, and how use major event repetition as a means to connect different character perspectives of the story. Storytelling is such a difficult skill and she does it with such ease, I am very impressed. The only reason why the story was hard to follow was because we were in a loud cafeteria and I missed a lot of what she said because she tends to speak more softly. The experience made me think about how so often we conflate the manner in which information is given, with the value of the information itself. Heck, Elenor Roosevelt went to speech therapy because she thought people would take her more seriously if her voice sounded different. 

• Today I mostly worked with Joey on the computers in the VCAM. I feel bad because sometimes I worry that in encouraging him to do something, I am being patronizing. I don’t think it is because of his disability, when I work with Joyce I don’t feel that way because she likes to tease me. I think it’s mostly because Joey is such an incredible nice person that goes with all of my suggestion and I feel like I’m taking advantage of him. I need to do a better job of reminding myself that I’m not and that he’s going with it because he’s just a really sweet guy.


Thank you Kristen for an incredible semster! You are a fantastic teacher and I feel very privileged to have taken a class with you:)