Saturday, July 23, 2016

Accommodating the Disabled

In an interesting development, our class on Tuesday morning began with Dr. Salmanson's rendition of Bob Dylan. This soon proved to be merely an unconventional way to transition into the topic he wanted to discuss. He began to talk about social activism in music, which seemed to be a continuation of Ms. Loira Limbal's presentation from the previous day. After informing us about the progression of social justice in music through the decades, he talked about a few in particular, pointing out how social justice used to feature more prominently in music prior to the 2000s. While I do agree that the songs about social justice get little of the publicity they should receive and deserve, I would like it to be recognized that there are still those songs out there.

After he had finished his brief lecture, our guests for the day, Dr. Kelly George and Dr. Clare Mullaney, entered the room to speak to us about the injustice related to disabilities. They started out by stating how society views disabilities as manifestations of biological inferiority that they then use to segregate the population between the "able" and "disabled." Once they had provided us with an introduction and some context for the topic, they had us participate in a focused freewriting exercise, in which we would write the first things that came to mind when we thought about the words disability, ability, and normal. From what I can decipher from my poor handwriting in the ensuing frenzy to write the first things that came to mind, I wrote that when I think of disability, I usually think of it as a physical handicap that restricts freedom of movement, even though I know it can be mental as well. Upon hearing the word, I immediately visualized the blue handicap parking symbol with a person in a wheelchair. As for the word ability, I wrote that it is the extent to how well an individual can perform a certain task. Finally, for the word normal, I wrote that it is the societal expectations of what a person should be as well as the conformity to what is deemed acceptable.

I found the freewriting exercise an interesting way to develop ideas, because although I experienced some initial confusion and irrelevant thoughts when I tried to come up with rapid associations upon hearing the words, I ended up thinking of some definitions that I found satisfactory. Despite the discrimination many disabled people undergo due to their conditions, some, like Harriet McBryde Johnson, were able to create positive self-images, which is certainly admirable, given the unfair treatment the disabled usually receive. This is in spite of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which is supposed to protect the disabled from discrimination, but much like the other acts that prohibit discrimination, there is still inequality that exists. They also discussed the differences between the medical model and the social model of disability. In the medical model, the disability is typically a biological condition to be cured, while in the social model, people try to make life easier for the less able. However, while there are efforts to be more accommodating towards the disabled, it is not always acknowledged that they come in different forms and varying degrees of severity. Although some may appear fully able, they may be suffering from less visible conditions, yet are still expected to perform to the same extent as those that are fully able, which is certainly unjust as well. In fact, there have been instances of hate towards these people, as well as those that qualify as disabled, even if they may not initially appear so. 

They also discussed ableism, which is essentially discrimination against the disabled or a belief that they are inferior in some manner. With that in mind, we watched a short commercial for Guinness, in which a group of men are playing basketball before it is revealed that they are all playing in wheelchairs. However, eventually, all but one get out of the wheelchair, and that one in the wheelchair tells them that they are getting better at basketball in wheelchairs, before they all go to a bar and get beer together. After we had watched the commercial, we discussed various aspects of it, such as what message the music conveyed and whether the part showing the people getting out of the wheelchairs affected the message. The music sounded somewhat inspiring, so I suggested that Guinness was trying to appeal to provide an appeal beyond the superficial qualities by creating such a commercial. I didn't have any problem with the people getting out of the wheelchair, but apparently others thought that it was ableism in practice, as they said it was demeaning for the others to get into wheelchairs to try to make it more fair for the friend in the wheelchair. However, I thought it was a great instance of people being accepting and accommodating towards friends. Personally, wheelchair basketball sounds interesting to me and I do not see it as demeaning at all, merely as a variation of the sport with an altered set of skills, and I would want to try it, even if I don't have a friend who requires a wheelchair.
Kamillah, Diana, and I with Dr. George (second from the left) and Dr. Mullaney (center)
Later that day, we went to the Library Company of Philadelphia, where we listened to a brief lecture about people with disabilities and how they adjust or compensate for it. For instance, blind athletes that compete in triathlons typically have a person to help guide them in the events. Following the lecture, we moved on to the Common Touch exhibition, where there are tactile exhibits that we were able to experiment with and explore our senses, primarily through touch, although one of the exhibits was both olfactory and auditory. The artist that created the exhibition, Ms. Teresa Jaynes, elaborated about each of them and explained the context behind each one, allowing us to get a better sense of their purposes.
The Common Touch exhibit at the Library Company
A tactile topography exhibit
The auditory and olfactory exhibit
"I Know"
After spending some time exploring all the exhibits, we returned to our home area, where class was adjourned until the next day. I thought that the presentation from Dr. George and Dr. Mullaney was quite elucidating, as I hadn't known much about the injustice that the disabled population suffers. I also found the Common Touch exhibition really interesting, as it occurred to me just how important sight truly is to me, so exploring the exhibits using my other senses more was a rather peculiar experience for me. Prior to today, I knew little about the injustice disabled people face, so I found our guests' presentation and the field trip really illuminating.

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