Disabled population at University quietly succeeding

The greatest barriers we face are often not a lack of accommodating facilities, but negative stereotypes.

As the University community’s voice, The Minnesota Daily has a responsibility to cover as wide a variety of events that affect students, faculty and staff as possible. Thus, the Daily has always done extensive coverage of Black History Month, Ramadan and Cinco de Mayo. 

October is both Meet the Blind and National Disability Awareness Month, and the Daily has failed miserably at covering either of them. It’s a real shame, considering the University is home to a large population of students, faculty and staff with disabilities who are chomping at the bit to educate our community. Unbeknownst to most people, the real problem facing people with disabilities is not the disabilities themselves, but the negative stereotypes and misconceptions society has about us.

The greatest barriers we face are often not a lack of Braille, American Sign Language interpreters and wheelchair-accessible facilities (although we face these too), but rather they are the attitudines prejudices and ignorance that exist.

Consider, for example, two blind students who signed up for a horseback riding class offered through the University last year. Though they took the class different semesters, both students reported being publicly harassed and humiliated by the instructor, who told them point-blank that blind people were incapable of participating in his class.

The students informed him that blind people work as farmers, ranchers, horse traders, breeders and riding instructors. Blind people also own and manage boarding stables, compete in equestrian competition on the international level, and earn master’s degrees in equine science and horse husbandry.

Despite these irrefutable facts, the instructor made comments such as, “Sight-impaired people cannot ride horses unless they do so under specialized circumstances.” and “I don’t believe a blind person can ride independently, because I’ve never seen a blind rider at a competition in my life.” Replace the word “blind” with the word “black,” “Asian,” or “female,” and you have an illustration of the problem. Incidentally, this behavior was also illegal, according to both federal and state anti-discrimination laws, and one student did indeed choose to complete the class. The other felt so disgraced in front of her peers she chose to drop the course.

Such ignorance exists outside of the classroom as well. How many times have disabled students been ignored by campus organizations running outreach tables in Coffman Union? How many times have student organizations distributing event fliers on Northrop Plaza run themselves ragged trying to pass out fliers to everyone within reach, but stepped sheepishly and cowardly out of the way of the person using the wheelchair, the white cane or the guide dog?

Surely people with disabilities are just as likely to be interested in the Socialist newspaper, the College Republicans, the water skiing club, the Christian fellowship or the anti-war protest as anyone else. If you really want your movement to grow, reach the most people or have an organization that truly reflects the depth and breadth of the campus community, you’re incomplete without us, and you’re missing out on having some passionate, intelligent, committed members. So, if your interest is piqued by any of this, we suggest you check out the Web site of the National Federation of the Blind at www.nfb.org and learn a little something about Meet the Blind Month and National White Cane Day.

We further suggest you check out the American Association of People with Disabilities Web site at www.aapd-dc.org and learn a little something about National Disability Awareness Month, because goodness knows, you’re not going to read about it in the Daily.

Brandon Ball, Stacy Cervenka and Charles Ladu are undergraduate students. Adam Schmidt and Nick Giudice are graduate students. Jennifer Dunnam is a staff member employed by Disability Services. Please send comments to [email protected]