People First, Disability Second
When I arrived to the Speakable event, I thought I knew what to expect. Speakable is an event created by the Services for Students with Disabilities where students, faculty, and staff at the University of Michigan with disabilities get an opportunity to share their personal experiences with their diagnoses. I was amazed that there were sign language interpreters and a large screen where someone was transcribing what the speakers were saying. Each speaker shared their struggles and how they tackle them in day-to-day life. The speakers all had multiple crucial messages; they are not defined by their disability, they want to be seen and treated as a person, they don’t wish to be pitied or don’t want to inspire others, and they want to spread awareness of physical and mental disabilities on campus. I say don’t want to inspire because they are simply existing and want to be recognized through their efforts, not their physical or mental impairments.
Some students wrote poems to express their thoughts and emotions, others expressed their thoughts on the current and previous treatment given to students with disabilities. I was especially impressed by the speakers’ sheer involvement in the disability scene. Many were involved in tons of clubs, were writing books, creating events, etc. I personally cried because some shared their previous viewpoints on their own issues with self-love and acceptance, and explained what they discovered along the way. It was quite insightful and beautiful. I highly suggest anyone to attend similar events on campus because it will surely light the way towards destigmatizing disabilities and mental health
One story that personally caught my attention and brought me to tears was Ashley Wiseman’s speech. She was born disabled and has a very rare neuropathy disorder that causes her to walk with a noticeable difference. When she graduated high school, she had to use a power wheelchair full time. Ashley mentioned how the disability culture causes people to hate themselves and each other, and that she fell into that pattern. She read an excerpt by Laura Marshley, who she said inspires disabled people to loves the lives they lead rather than measuring themselves against the standards designed for non-disabled people. One line that I particularly loved was, “Remember, you weren’t the one who made you ashamed but you are the one that can make you proud. Just practice.” It shows that we have the power to change how we view ourselves and others, and to not be held back by our past. Ashley used writing to cultivate love for her own body, emphasizing how it didn’t always work, but it that it also takes practice.
Ashley learned that being disabled taught her “patience, vulnerability, humility, compassion, creativity and wisdom every day”, and she has learned to love being disabled instead of letting her neuropathy and ableism deter her from being happy.