I’ve always been told that college is a place for free-thinkers. It is. Loyola was the first place I was able to tell my story. In November, after Trump won the election, I told my class of “young conservatives,” “I’m terrified. The disabled community relies on government funded healthcare. I need an aide just to shower in the morning. If Republicans have their way, people like me would not be here.” With that, the debate ended and faces burned red. College is not just the place where young adults get to express their opinion, but also be challenged. Over the last year, my views on disability have changed. At school I have met people with autism, learning disabilities, and physical disabilities that have made me recognize my own preference for “people like me.” These people have taught me that noone deserves to be discriminated against or exploited. I have dedicated this past year to educating myself and reshaping my beliefs to benefit the disabled community as a whole. With this came frustration. Autistic and developmentally disabled people are often taken advantage of because people mistake them for helpless and less valuable. Sometimes people do this out of malice, but other times, people believe they are being helpful.
Many people in college view disabled people as charity cases. They believe that it is their duty to befriend disabled students and essentially take them under their wing. There are two issues here: one being that college students do not always know much about disabilities and could contribute to meltdowns, and the second being that non-disabled people assume that their way of life is superior to a disabled student’s. For instance, many people without disabilities do not understand that for people with neurological disorders, crowded or loud places are overwhelming. Many times people think they are being helpful by forcing someone out of their comfort zone when they actually could be causing the individual more stress. People without disabilities often assume they know what is best for disabled people even though disabled people know their bodies and minds more than an outsider ever could. Rather than being viewed as human beings with merits, value, and plans, these students are victims and objects of pity. This devalues and exploits them.
When faced with this problem, I had two choices: I could either try and explain to people why their views are demeaning or I could focus my energy on making a difference in my community. Trying to explain a point that is already out there seems futile. Many people have denounced ableist perspectives, yet some people refuse to listen. Perhaps this is because viewing disabled people as objects of pity feeds the able-bodied ego. Having someone who relies on one’s innate ability (whether it is physical, emotional, or mental) can feel powerful. This is a view that people do not easily abandon; it benefits them and gives them a sense of purpose.
Instead of fighting this, I decided to use my energy where it’s needed–building the disabled community at my school. This is where I got the idea to start the club Disability is Diversity. I want this to be a place where disabled students can discuss their experiences, and also where able-bodied students can learn. I want this club to be for disabled students and run by disabled students, but also to include people without disabilities. I want a club that would have made a difference in my life while I was a freshman. I want a club where disabled students feel like their disability is not shameful, but part of who they are. My attention is better spent nurturing and building my community than it would be trying to teach people that should know better.