The second installment of the Active Allyship Series calls able-bodied people to be better allies
The Student Center for Reconciliation and Diversity (SCRD) hosted an event on Tuesday called “Disability and Allyship.” The event is the second installment of the organization’s Active Allyship Series, which will continue with two more events next semester. The event aimed at curating a discussion about disability and the ways in which able-bodied people can be an ally to those in need.
SCRD intern Mandy Deal coordinated the event. According to Deal, she believes social justice issues often ignore the experiences and needs of the disabled. Deal discussed her research leading up to the event, noting that she was intentional in choosing to use the word “disabled” instead of “differently abled.”
“The research I’ve done talks about how ‘differently abled’ is a euphemism for what the reality of living with a disability is really like and can be kind of condescending in some ways, which is why I personally chose to use the word ‘disability,’” Deal said. “It’s definitely important to me that we acknowledge that it’s based on personal preference.”
The panel consisted of six people with different disabilities, including visual, neurological and internal disabilities. The panelists were asked a series of questions by Deal with the option to answer or remain silent. In discussing what it means for an able-bodied person to be an ally to the disabled, the panelists discussed issues that churches, APU and fellow Christians commit which leads to bad experiences.
Absences were a main issue for some of the panelists with joint and tissue disorders. In some cases, the panelists explained situations when they have been very sick or have been in extreme pain and had to decide whether to miss class again and risk a bad grade or stay at home to take care of themselves.
“I am very sick all the time because I have a very weak immune system, and if someone sneezes in the next county I get sick. I went to class last week and I was so sick and one of my professors was like, ‘Why are you here?’” said Anna Cayot, co-president of Strong. “And I [said], ‘Because I’m out of absences. You drop me from this class if I go home, so I’m here.’”
Other panelists agreed with Cayot’s statement, saying there is a misconception from professors and students who sometimes believe a student’s absence from class means they are lazy, when it could be due to a disability.
Going to Chapel is also an issue for some, as the bright strobe lights and loud sounds make it difficult for those with sensory issues. Panelists noted that if Chapel Programs were to turn down the sound a little and face the lights upward a little bit, it would not be as bad for people with certain disabilities.
“Able-bodied people just don’t think about things until they’re presented with them,” Cayot said. “If you’re never confronted with an obstacle, you never have to step around it. It’s not until someone who is stuck behind the obstacle comes up and says, ‘Hey, there’s this problem,’ that someone can push out of the way.”
The panelists agreed that APU can often seem unprepared to serve those with disabilities, but also spoke of ways they see the APU community trying to help and be better.
Taylor Fiddyment is an intern for the Center for Student Action (CSA). Fiddyment recounted her experience in the most recent fire drill at APU where she rolled her wheelchair into an elevator with a professor. Although it was a drill, fire safety laws state individuals must use stairs in case of an actual fire.
“She [asked] ‘What would you do if there was a real fire?’” Fiddyment said. “I said, ‘Well, I don’t know. Ask someone to carry me I guess.’ After that, she sent some emails and talked to the class about, ‘Hey, what would you do in this situation?’”
Cayot said being a good ally means taking action to better the community for disabled people before they ever have to deal with the issue.
“I’m kind of in a funny position as a leader in Strong because I spend a lot of my time advocating for myself and for the students that are involved in the program because when you hear something is wrong, you can’t just leave it,” Cayot said. “When you see something, don’t think of it as someone else’s problem because it is someone else’s problem, and it will be a problem until someone solves it. And allyship is thinking, ‘Hey, here’s a problem, let’s solve it.’”
Three of the panelists discussed ways in which Christians do more harm than good when it comes to being an ally. In particular, they said Christians asking to pray for their healing can be offensive.
“I have had a lot of beautiful and frustrating experiences on campus, in churches and just in the Christian community that I believe … have been well-intended,” Fiddyment said. “For example, a young man approached me asking me if he could pray for my healing. And I appreciated what he was trying to do, but there is just this overarching understanding of my brokenness that I don’t feel or identify with that is placed upon me in those experiences … He didn’t even ask me who I am. [He] just asked, ‘Can I heal you?’”
Juan Vilchez, a blind junior physics major, said he related to Fiddyment’s experience. To avoid conflict, Vilchez said he often lets people pray for him, but he is uncomfortable with the idea that people view him as broken.
“Having a disability is not a self-pity thing to have,” Vilchez said. “Rather, it’s a challenge and it’s a tool that people can look up to us and say, ‘Wow, if he can do all sorts of things that I can do, why am I thinking negatively towards that person?’”