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Strike a Chord: De-Stigmatizing Disability

Strike a Chord: De-Stigmatizing Disability
The word "disabled" is full of stigma. But as part of WFUV's Strike a Chord Campaign on accessibility, Rob Palazzolo looks at a new academic field that wants to change that attitude.

CUNY Professor Mariette Bates is head of a program about which you have probably never heard. It is called Disabilities Studies. 

"Traditionally Disabilities Studies is a critical look at those interactions between disability and society," explained Professor Bates. 

That explanation sounds very theoretical, but there is a practical side too. Part of the goal is empowerment. 

"The assumption that people with disabilities are dependent, the assumption that there's something different about them that we need to fix, the assumption that people with disabilities are inherently less competent because of their disabilty--and we try to turn that on its head," said Professor Bates. 

Professor Bates claims it is actually society that makes people disabled. She says a person only becomes disabled when they run into a man-made obstacle, like a staircase, that keeps them from doing what others can. Take away the staircase, and the disability goes away, she said. 

Deborah Rivel is a student at the CUNY program, and she said this program teaches people with disabilities to advocate for themselves. 

"it's a life skill to say 'I'm not going to do this for you. I can guide you, I can lead you, I can get you the skills,'" said Rivel. "And I think this program gives us the skills to pass along." 

Professor Bates said the endgame for Disabilities Studies is a just society. And for her, that means when the build environment is made accessible without a second thought.


See our other stories in the Strike a Chord series here

Making Communication Accessible, One App at a Time

Navigating the Subway with a Disability

Landing a Job with a Disability

Bringing Broadway to a Deaf Audience