Summer 2009 Retreat

Summer 2009 Retreat

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Journal 12 - Angela L.

Do you think that disability is more a concrete physical/mental characteristic or more a socially constructed way of classifying people? Reflect on your experience with disabilities in school. In particular, was there ever a time when you or another student was treated unfairly by a teacher or other adult because of a disability?

To me, the term "disability" is a socially constructed label for a concrete physical/mental characteristic. The word "disability" gives a distinct flavor to this characteristic, one that suggests that the person affected has lost his or her ability to do a certain task such as learning, walking, etc... Unfortunately one side effect of this labeling is that it's very black-and-white: either the individual has the ability or does not. There's very little middle ground, with this understanding of the physical/mental characteristic, for each person's individual nuances and ways of overcoming the existing barriers of the characteristic. So in that sense, I think that whoever coined the word "disability" originally intended to refer a physical/mental characteristic, but it's difficult to argue that the term is entirely innocent since it has been impregnated with various other socially constructed meanings.

A friend of mine last semester got into a terrible accident. She got off her bus, and in the process, was hit multiple times by a biker, a car, and then the actual bus in a horrible domino-effect incident. She wound up in the hospital and with a temporarily paralyzed right arm, from the shoulder down to the hand. This happened a few weeks before finals, and though she was given the option to withdraw for the semester, decided that she wanted to finish her classes. So, she became a part of DSP (The Disabled Students' Program), and began looking for scribes (other students to do the writing portion of her finals for her, while she dictates to them during the exam) as well as emailing her professors to ask about alternative final times and the DSP scribe program. Most of her professors were understanding and accommodating. However, one of them was particularly difficult and told her she should just withdraw from the class if she couldn't take the final herself and take the course again next year. He didn't want to deal with coordinating a separate final time and scribe option, and would rather have had her waste an entire semester's worth of work and effort and receive the mark of withdrawal on her transcript. His inflexibility gave her so much added stress and difficulty on top of the serious physical repercussions of her accident, scrambling to find scribes, and general finals stress from a heavy courseload. The temporary nature of her disability gave a shocking and disappointing view into the experiences others may encounter that do not have the benefit of knowing that they will someday have that label removed.

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