TED Talk and discussion night hosted by DREAM generates important discussion about how we talk about disability

By Megan Loock

Elm Staff Writer

On Tuesday Oct. 20, the Disability Rights, Education, Activism, and Mentoring chapter at Washington College hosted a TED Talk and Discussion night on disability rights, culture, and accessibility. 

According to the TED website, “TED is a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks (18 minutes or less). TED began in 1984 as a conference where Technology, Entertainment and Design converged, and today covers almost all topics — from science to business to global issues.”

The TED Talks were chosen by the executive board members of DREAM and three were presented at the event.

“We decided to do a TED Talk night as a low-key way for students to learn more about the various perspectives and topics within disability culture,” senior DREAM President Emily Wiest said. “By showing several speakers that cover different topics, we hoped to create a space for an engaging discussion.”

The first video, “Changing the Way We Talk About Disability,” presented by speaker Amy Outton, was chosen by sophomore DREAM Treasurer Andrea Peterson.  

The talk discusses when able-bodied people point out disability, it is portrayed as insincere and puts an over emphasis on the individual’s disability which, in turn, serves to only alienate them even more.

Outton uses the example of a comment she received to which she was told “You’re very stylish for someone in a wheelchair.”

After the video, Disability Access Specialist for the Office of Academic Skills Liz Shirk identified this mindset  as “Inspiration Porn.” 

Inspiration Porn is the tendency to reduce someone’s disability down to objects of inspiration, according to Stella Young, a woman who has a disability who coined the term in her TED Talk “I’m not your inspiration, thank you very much.”

“It’s important to remember that people with disabilities can have fun and make so many accomplishments and it shouldn’t only be considered an accomplishment because they had to overcome the boundaries of their disability to do so,” Peterson said.

The next two videos focused on the inclusion of those with disabilities. 

“How I fail at being disabled,” presented by speaker Susan Robinson tackled inclusivity in a unique way. 

According to the TED website, “Susan Robinson is legally blind — or partially sighted, as she prefers it — and entitled to a label she hates: ‘disabled.’ In this funny and personal talk, she digs at our hidden biases by explaining five ways she flips expectations of disability upside down.”

The talk is only eight minutes long, but it generated a lively discussion about the difference between using identity-first language versus person-first language when speaking about an individual’s disability. 

Identity first language uses someone’s disability as a descriptor, such as ‘epileptic child,’ according to the Association of Health Care Journalists. Person-first language “literally puts the person first,” said Weist, “It works as ‘I have a disability’ instead of ‘I am disabled.’” An example of this is “a child with epilepsy.” 

“But it really depends on the perspective and experiences of the individual,” Wiest said. 

Despite low attendance, Shirk believed that turnout would have been different if the classes were not online. 

“I think it’s tricky to find events that students want to be involved with remotely because we’re all getting tired of Zoom meets, but it was still great to see everyone who could make it,” Wiest said.

On Oct. 16, DREAM at WC announced they had become an official chapter of the national DREAM organization, according to their official Instagram post.

According to Shirk, DREAM is not yet an official club on campus. 

However, she and Wiest hope that will achieve the official club status and see its membership increase. 

“I hope DREAM continues to advocate for disability culture, community, and pride in whatever way the students who are a part of it choose to do this. What DREAM accomplishes is truly up to the students involved and their vision for its future,” Shirk said. 

To find out more about DREAM visit their Instagram @dreamatwac or you can email their president Emily Wiest, ewiest2@washcoll.edu.

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