October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). At Northern Arizona University, Disability Heritage Month is currently underway with a number of activities, events and speakers. This year’s theme is Challenging Perceptions about Disability.
Disability Studies, a minor with strong popularity at NAU, works to challenge perceptions about disability and the people who have them. This perspective challenges the notion that disability is only a medical problem concerning the individual and their family. It challenges us as citizens to critique how our society has treated people with disabilities and to create communities that are inclusive and responsive to the needs of all its members.
At NAU, my colleague, Matthew and I expose students to the history of disability in society, the disability rights movement and the cultural and social barriers that people with disabilities have faced throughout history. By doing so we hope to influence the perceptions students have about disability. Additionally, as students learn about how the political system has responded to improve the lives of those with disabilities, we hope to demonstrate that positive actions by a group can make a difference for the future of that group. However, what is probably most impactful to the students who take the Introduction to Disability Studies course is learning from my colleague Matthew. He has a significant developmental disability and rather than speak he uses alternative methods to communicate. Matthew’s day to day teaching has allowed students to rethink previous held beliefs about the competencies of individuals with significant disabilities. It has also opened their minds to a group of people that many of them never considered important in society or relevant to their own lives.
Research has shown that the more people with disabilities interact with people without disabilities in relationships of equality that positive attitude change can occur. Facilitating these types of interactions in all of our educational settings, whether in healthcare disciplines or business programs is critical to meet the goals of a truly inclusive society. Disability Studies is one way of challenging perceptions of disability and educating students that disability and people with disabilities should be a concern for all of us. Disability is a natural part of the human experience. We hope that every citizen realizes that, not just in October, but every day!
Written by: Katherine Mahosky, Ed.D, CCC-SLP