Disabled person or person with disabilities – breaking the barriers

Unlearning behavior that is systemic and inherent in the system is no small feat.  Four speakers tackled the task this past week at SIUE.

The Philosophy Department hosted several speakers from SIUE and other organizations on Friday, February 25 in Peck Hall on the SIUE campus.  The talk, moderated by Alison Reiheld, assistant professor of philosophy at SIUE, was entitled “The Crooked Timber of Humanity,” and dovetailed off of a talk given by Dr. Temple Grandin on Thursday evening,

Panel members from left to right: Jennifer Flores, Alison Reiheld, Stanley Brown, and Gary Hicks.

“[Temple Grandin] uses her autism to understand animals which may seem odd because, allegedly, people with Autism have difficulty making connections with human beings,” began Reiheld. “This reveals that disabilities are not always what we think they are, which is an impairment.”

Reiheld then launched the session by explaining the title was derived from a statement by Immanuel Kant.  Kant believed that out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was made, according to Reiheld.  Reiheld stated that the idea behind this statement is that all humans are flawed and seeking or demanding perfection in others is deeply problematic.

Explaining the depth of the definitions for disabilities, Reiheld showed that many of the terms used to describe people with disabilities can change the perception that society has on that person.  Reiheld used the recent controversy surrounding rewriting abortion laws in Georgia to explain this.

“Do you call people who are against [the] Roe vs. Wade [decision] ‘pro-life,’ ‘anti-abortion,’ or ‘anti-choice’?  Which of those you choose is going to shape how you view those people,” said Reiheld.  “Do you call those who favor [Roe vs. Wade] ‘pro-choice,’ ‘pro-abortion,’ or ‘anti-life’?  These are just terms describing essentially the same position but they have completely different connotations and this will affect if you view those people as morally problematic or not.”

Reiheld stated this is the issue in Georgia as Georgia House Bill 1 proposes changing terminology from ‘abortion’ to ‘fetal murder,’ changing how people may view the issue.

The first speaker to address the audience was Jennifer Flores from the Art Park Ost Gallery in Granite City who spoke on “Universal Art Education: Providing Modifications for Special Needs Students in the Art Room.”  Flores recently received her master’s degree from SIUE and works in the community as an art educator.

Flores wanted the audience to understand the importance of finding way to integrate children with disabilities into the classroom.  She also emphasized the importance of integrating the aides that some children with disabilities have.

“When you go into these lessons and you go into these classrooms, you always have to think of who your audience is and that they all might not be at the same level,” said Flores.  “Hearing impaired students [is an example].  In an art room, people are moving around constantly. If I have a student who has an auditory issue, I might have to wear a microphone.”

Flores offered students in the audience a variety of methods to utilize in this type of setting.  Offering examples from her personal life, Flores told the audience about how she worked with an art teacher in Maryland to create a method that allowed visually impaired students to create two-dimensional art that could be seen as well as felt.

Gary Hicks, associate professor and chair of mass communications, followed Flores’ presentation.  His presentation was entitled “Media and Mental Illness: Interrogating the Stigma, Behind the Image.”

Hicks presented the audience with his research into media portrayals of people with disabilities and illnesses by way of telling the audience how he got a publishing company to accept his research for publication.  Hicks revisited the talk given by Grandin the night before.

“I asked [Dr. Grandin] a lot of questions about mental illness and how it should be portrayed,” stated Hicks. “Her number one comment was ‘Tell people what we can do, not what we are.”

Hicks continued by telling the audience what must be accepted as dogma by his students.  He believes that in the 21st century there is not a single social power, including family, church, government, or education, that is as powerful in molding who one believes we all are than the mass media.  Hicks stated this is generally a fairly easy sell, but could not convince publishers to accept a book based on this idea of looking at media and mental illness.

Hicks presented a plethora of examples of mental illness in the media, including “Cybil,” “The Hurt Locker,” “South Park,” “Monk,” as well as a new article from the 1970’s about a ‘psychiatric asylum’ burning down in Trenton, New Jersey with the headline “Roasted Nuts.”  Hicks explained through his presentation how people must learn to see these images and understand the message being given by media.

The presentation was then turned over to Stanley Brown, an adjunct faculty member at Webster University.  Brown presented on a paper entitled “What’s Needed to Ensure Accessible Travel for Disabled Persons.”

Brown, a veteran who became a functioning quadriplegic after a car accident, spoke about the difficulties that he has had since the accident, especially in traveling.  Brown spoke about a trip he took on an airline where members of the flight crew did not properly help him and he ended up falling on his side.

“Then of course the questions are, how do you feel?  I’m paralyzed from the chest down. I don’t feel,” said Brown.  “Eight hours later, I’m in the E.R. and they tell me I am alright.”

Brown outlined the struggle he has had in getting airlines, railroad companies, hotels, and other institutions to simply follow the guidelines set up by the Transportation Department of the government.

The final speaker, Joseph Stramondo, from the philosophy department at Michigan State University, was not able to make the event due to health issues.  Reiheld presented his paper entitled “Disability, Social Privilege, and the Limits of Formal Justice.”  The paper brought up issues of how different social classes experience discrimination and oppression in different fashions.  It also raised issue with the American with Disabilities Act and how the act inherently privileges disabled people with social power.

The panel’s message to the audience was that society needs to examine how people with disabilities are addressed, the labels they are given, how they are represented in the media, and how they are taught.

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