We watched this TED talk by Stella Young to start off today’s HIST 233 class (Disability in American Life):

This video is a powerful one, that speaks to the ways that people with disabilities are treated in today’s society.  Stella’s no-nonsense speaking about “disability porn” and the objectification of disabled people works well to disrupt the notion of disability as “inspiring” that is fairly common.

The conversation after the video was wide-ranging and thought-provoking.  I especially appreciated when the discussion turned to the question of whether our world could be like the one that Stella imagines at the end of her talk.  She says:

I really want to live in a world where disability is not the exception, but the norm. I want to live in a world where a 15-year-old girl sitting in her bedroom watching “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” isn’t referred to as achieving anything because she’s doing it sitting down. I want to live in a world where we don’t have such low expectations of disabled people that we are congratulated for getting out of bed and remembering our own names in the morning. I want to live in a world where we value genuine achievement for disabled people, and I want to live in a world where a kid in year 11 in a Melbourne high school is not one bit surprised that his new teacher is a wheelchair user.

Disability doesn’t make you exceptional, but questioning what you think you know about it does.

In one of the twists of discussion that often happens near the end of a class, one of the students admitted that they had a somewhat dystopian view of the future, and they were concerned that the world was getting worse, not better.  And that they felt that the world as Stella imagines it (or the better world that we like to imagine and work for) might never happen.

It feels early in the semester for a conversation to emerge at that level, but I appreciated that the students were ready to go there.  So we talked about hope and the future and the opportunities that we had as individuals in creating change, especially in creating a world where all people are valued, despite the differences in their bodies.  It was a powerful end to the class, and set the stage for many provocative conversations ahead as we explore issues of disability within specific historical and social contexts. Even though it’s still several weeks away, I am already looking forward to teaching the students about the activism and legislation that led to the ADA, and the legacy of that Act for them personally as well as its impact on American society.