“I live with a physical disability, paralysis from a sports injury, so, naturally, when seeking to fulfill my upper level course credit and seeing a class based on disability, I was pretty surprised and equally stoked because I wasn’t going to fail on a topic so directly related to me and my own life… right? Well, that was my philosophy, anyway, and it’s proven true. Not only I, but my fellow classmates as well, have all been impacted, inspired, challenged, acknowledged, and made “woke” from our time spent together discussing and envisioning disability in new and overdue light. We are a diverse group, ranging from freshman to those pursuing doctorate degrees, some living with disabilities and some with family members and disabled friends. Others just have an awareness or interest, while some, similar to myself 13 years ago, have been plucked and dropped into this unfamiliar world of disability as a rude and needed wide-awakening to ableism and the hold it has on the disability community and world at large.

If not familiar, Ableism, intentional or unintentional, can be defined as social/body expectations and institutions of power that perpetuate the narrative and belief system that only certain bodies deserve rights, accommodations and acceptance. Often this creates prejudice and oppression by discriminating against and devaluing the lived experience of people with physical, intellectual, and psychiatric disabilities.

With our collective views, wide range of experiences, and empowered frustrations with a world still playing catch-up on accommodating disability, we have created and taken on projects to elevate the disabled community, and not just to highlight its existence with retro-fits and adaptation. Ultimately, the disabled community wants to be seen as people, heard as equal, and accepted on a level ground, not risen on a pedestal of privileges, but also not left scrounging in the trenches, fending for equal and comparative basic needs. Our visions of change seek to influence disability culture, broaden inclusion, and make accessibility for disability the foundation to build a framework and society upon which comfortably shelters all under the same roof.

Like all Humanities Labs, we are required to tackle group projects, which we call “disruptions.” We learned that disability is often the caboose of diversity. How do you conduct your life’s needs, voice, and purpose from the back end of the diversity train? The currency is coal, and a student-ran coalition is just the house of combustion needed for students with disabilities to realize their power in identity and become the conductors of their own route and the tracks they leave behind by giving them the space to undertake challenging initiatives, advocate for marginalized voices, and elevate disability culture on campus and throughout the community. This is why we have chosen to embark on the creation and formation of an accessibility/disability coalition for ASU students.

Our desired hope is to become part of the Council of Coalitions, an advocacy Council of 7 current coalitions on campus all “dedicated to creating a community of cultural, underrepresented, marginalized, identity-based, and/or diversity-based student lead organizations for all ASU campuses and ASU online.” We believe an accessibility/disability coalition would be a positive addition and influence on this Council which works as an intercommunity seeking opportunities to collaborate, foster growth, strengthen and support the presence of underrepresented diversity on campus. We have met with the Council of Coalitions to elicit more information on how to formally propose our coalition.

To date, we have garnered the support of 10+ ASU club organizations dealing with disability as well as many allies on campus. We meet weekly and discuss the various issues surrounding disability and the variance within those experiences to ensure equal representation in the drafting of the upcoming coalition constitution and bylaws. It has been powerful bringing the minds and voices of students together in one place to see the excitement in the idea of generating advocacy towards accessibility for ASU students on campus living with disabilities. As caboose, we continue full steam ahead by organizing town hall meetings, scaling community organization, exposing current disability narratives, and culture while navigating pathways that will hopefully impact the ears of those in position of coalition approval.

For me, when I say the Humanities Lab Disrupting Dis/Ability Discourses has “changed my life”, I wholeheartedly mean it. I found throughout different course readings, linked videos, dialogue with friends, and profound statements from fellow classmates, I was living, in ways, with discourses about myself. Having transitioned from an able body to a disabled body, having had privileges and lost privileges, I’ve often been at odds on which way to pivot when confronted with ableist situations. Whether I’m being seated away from my crew of friends in accommodation seating while also simultaneously being viewed as high maintenance and in the way by others, or not invited, even canceling my own plans and travels because there is no cohesive way logistically to accommodate my wheelchair exterior seamlessly with my able-bodied cohorts. I would give pass to these privileged scenarios just because they were common activity and/or “perks of an able body,” I didn’t want to interrupt the experience nor spoil the fun I’d once known. I had to learn a history of a people, a community, and a culture seemingly underground and often not taught nor sought to acknowledge and embrace. I realized that if I don’t push out of my pivot, whistle blowing in advocacy of the rights and the betterment of the disabled community, then I am enabling ableism. I have the ability to disable my own ableist thoughts, which become actions, which create change.

I will no longer live in a world whose hierarchy esteems and endorses the normate body and derails the disabled as an afterthought. Ableism should not repeat history in a time when we have the wherewithal more so than ever to make a future possible where experiences don’t feel ruined because of lack of accommodation and fun isn’t missed out on or dulled down because of a lack of access. My philosophy is, needed innovation in our accountability and actions when addressing ableist barriers, speech and structures of power. This is necessary for the disability community to arrive on the same platform, flush with opportunities of access because prior action was made to be inclusive. The accessibility/disability coalition would forward our spectrum and practices of broader inclusion by dismantling ableism and bringing “ALL ABOARD” at ASU.”

Note from the Humanities Lab:

The Dis/rupting Disability Humanities Lab, which ran in Fall 2020, sought to expand and enrich understandings of disability in our cultural imagination. In the Lab, students and co-instructors collaborated to develop their own informed targeted actions aimed at transforming definitions of dis/ability by pursuing a fundamental question: “How can we reimagine disability in ways that don’t reinforce discriminatory and harmful structures?”

The impact of this Lab extends far beyond a single semester. Students from this Lab are still striving to make Arizona State University a more inclusive place for all with the most recent effort from the Accessibility Coalition, an Open-House Student Meeting being held on Monday, January 18th, 2021 from 1-2pm. If you would like to attend, please join at this link and/or email Hannah Grabowski at hkgrabow@asu.edu.

Garrett Tanner