Alison Hobbs, director of Student Accessibility Services (SAS) at Franklin & Marshall College, said that for nondisabled people to understand the experiences of of those who are disabled is to consider the daily challenges they face.
“To be generous in perspective, you have to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, and ask, 'How would this work for me?' Whether it’s to do with education, physical access, or anything else,” Hobbs said.
On March 24, F&M's Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies (WGSS) program and SAS will bring the first "Disability Studies Symposium" to campus with a program to enhance understanding and critical analysis of disability as a form of diversity.
“Our students face expectations,” Hobbs said. “There’s the expectation that you get up, go to classes and attend all of them, and do your work without the probing of how you will do these things. It’s expected they occur. And when they don’t, we have problems.”
With support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the symposium is organized by Hobbs, Maria Mitchell, professor of history and chair of WGSS, and Meg Day, assistant professor of English. A group of students also contributes to the planning team.
“Often people think of disability as physical, and while there are those with physical disabilities at F&M, the majority of disabled folks here might have anxiety, ADHD, or other things you can’t see,” said E Marcovitz, a sophomore WGSS and sociology joint major from Owings Mills, Md.
According to Hobbs, 408 F&M students, or 17 percent of the campus, are registered with her office. Most of them have learning disabilities or medical and psychiatric conditions.
“There are more students registered with us than there are international students on campus. That’s surprising for a number of people," Hobbs said. "But it shouldn’t be — roughly 20 percent of students nationwide have some kind of learning disability. I’m happy we’re near that mark because it tells me that we’re closer to reaching all the students that need our services.”
Keynote speaker Sharon Barnartt, professor of sociology at Gallaudet University, will address the scholarship in disability studies.
“It’s a field that intersects and overlaps with numerous others, including sociology, American studies, psychology and literature, but that has its own identity, literature and theories,” Mitchell said. “Our scholarship is not disconnected from the politics of the everyday. Disability studies is important intellectually, but it also matters in a very real way for people who connect to the disabled community.”
At the symposium, Hobbs will discuss accessibility, resources and services with Devon Grant, executive director of Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf's cabinet and advisory committee for people with disabilities. Six students will share their experiences with disabilities in the classroom and in social life on campus.
“Accessibility benefits everyone,” Marcovitz said. “For example, if a professor is playing a video during class, closed captioning doesn’t only help deaf and hard of hearing folks, it’s also helpful for those for whom English isn’t their first language, or for people who get distracted easily.”
“I want the word ‘ableism’ in people’s mouths,” said Day. “I want for folks to know themselves as disabled or nondisabled, and interrogate that and carry it with them.”
“It’s important for people to know that disability isn’t about an individual person’s problem. It’s about a society that doesn’t allow for space for all people,” Marcovitz said. “If you’re interacting with someone with a mobility device, you think of what they might need to enter the classroom. If you can’t see the disability, how are you supposed to know what that person needs?”
The symposium invites students, faculty and professional staff to engage intellectually with the category of disability and to educate campus members about access challenges and accommodations for affected students.
“We’re hopeful that campus members will come," Mitchell said. "All of us interact with members of the disability community and could at any point become disabled ourselves.”
The Disability Studies Symposium will take place Saturday, March 24, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Stahr Auditorium on the first floor of Stager Hall. Lunch and ASL interpretation provided. Open to all members of the Franklin & Marshall community.