Opinion

The forgotten minority: “You can’t see it and I don’t blame you.”

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By Victoria Bradford

Visual & Design Editor

Illustration By Victoria Bradford

People in the differently abled community are taught from birth to try their hardest to fit in amongst the crowd, however we can. It may not be said outright, but the underlying biases shaped by society are what give the message to us loud and clear. 

The best way to describe being invisibly disabled in an able-bodied world is being too much and not enough at the same time. You can’t see it and I don’t blame you. Often times, my hearing aids are tucked underneath strands of my hair. This is how I was conditioned to be. For me, it is the offer of skin-colored hearing aids and speech therapy lessons. For others, it could be the lack of IEP (individualized education program), the lack of support from teachers and classmates alike, and the sense of loneliness when others don’t understand the experience.

Calling attention to myself more than necessary, especially when it is in front of a classroom of people, is really hard because yet again I have to mention what separates me from everyone else.

During this time of diversity and inclusivity education, don’t forget those who may not always have a voice to speak. Invisible disabilities exist everywhere so we should always be aware of this because we may never know who is struggling. The struggle is often as invisible as the disability. You probably don’t see the extra time spent in tutoring to make up for what you missed in class lessons with soft spoken professors or watching videos shown in class again at home because asking the professor to turn captions on is too embarrassing. 

Where are we as an inclusive community at Saint Michael’s College? I interviewed Antonia Messuri, assistant dean for academic affairs and director of the Academic Enrichment Commons,  about this. “From my point of view, we are profoundly responsive to the “differently abled.”   I’ve witnessed such deep care and concern across all departments and offices.  Ultimately, this is a question for our students and employees labeled ‘disabled.’  We need to ask, ‘How are we doing?’   I need to stay humble and aware that what I think might be working might not be working at all.  We need to get to the source (the people) and always ask this question.  This question should never end.” 

We can make the smallest of changes to our daily actions to allow for an accessible and inclusive environment to those who are differently abled. It can be done through educating yourself on inclusive language through online research or just asking a community member, creating a supportive culture on campus, providing accommodations by asking your peer what they may need to succeed, and raising awareness by keeping the conversation about inclusivity alive. 

When it comes to how we can all become more inclusive Messuri said, “Make friends with one another. Reach out to someone you consider ‘other.’ Imagine yourself into being bigger, fuller, stronger, and more capable of embracing those who threaten or intimidate you. Most of all, pay attention.” Together, the differently abled community and allies can create an environment that has a sense of belonging, something we all deserve.

What you can do to promote inclusivity for the differently abled community

*Articulate

*Don’t judge a student for not “getting it”

*Provide relevant accommodations

*Educate yourself on appropriate language

*Practice compassion

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