Erin Richards '15 Associate Editor | Web Editor
On Thursday, April 3, the Office of Disability Services held the first of the “Disability Visibility” events on Chapin lawn. The event was part one of a three-part series held that week. To raise awareness of the disabled community at Smith, 400 chairs were placed on the lawn to represent the 400 students who registered as a students with disabilities.
Lily Seigel ‘14 comments on the event overall and shares her feelings on the representation of the disabled culture: “This event was intended to inform the Smith community about the breadth of the disabled community while giving disabled students an opportunity to share deeply about how disability shapes lived experience while serving as a potential source of identity and pride. I was thrilled about the event because I felt that it really display the complexity and richness of the community.”
Smith alumnae Dr. Jennifer Matos, spoke with students and faculty in attendance about the meaning of being disabled in current society. She raised the point that being taught to overlook each other’s differences has resulted in the invisibility of disabled people.
When asked how Smith could address the issue of invisibility as an institution, Dr. Matos emphasized the necessity of making sure disabled students are reflected in the college’s materials and classrooms, and that their voices are heard. She continued to explain that recognizing the disabled community means not just “building ramps,” but also being critical of social as well as physical ableist structures.
Lily Eriksen ’16 was among one of the many students who helped coordinate the event. When asked what they were hoping to achieve with the “Disability Visibility” event Eriksen stated, “Visibility and awareness on campus, because there’s a lot of things people don’t know about disability services here … we’re a group of students that have this confidentiality issue, we wanted to start making it easier for people to come forward as disabled and [know] that there is a big group here that will support them.”
As Eriksen points out the fact that there are 400 students with disabilities at Smith was shocking to some. Said Eriksen, “There’s also a huge diversity of students with disabilities here, and [people don’t realize] that generally all of these students who have disabilities are very gifted in other respects and have a lot of strengths.”
Following the event on Chapin lawn was an open stage for students to discuss their experiences as students with disabilities. “The night event was very powerful where students shared stories or poems about their disabilities. There are so many different stores and it was great to hear about other people’s struggles. The hard part about this group is that there are so many different types of disabilities, but I have learned a lot about other people’s disabilities. My disability isn’t physical, so sometimes I forget about those types of disabilities.”
From this event it became clear that conversations about social justice, which consider race, gender, sexuality and class, should also consider disability as well. Eriksen believes that moving disability into that conversation is the first step towards removing social stigma. She says, “Just getting the discussion started would be a really powerful step and I think we have started to chip away at that step here.”