Nickolas Gibson is an Inventors Student Ambassador who serves on our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee through the Inventors Program. As part of the committees goals this semester, members have been reading and listening to resources in order to better understand, celebrate, and serve all the communities within UT Austin.
Nick offers his reflections on a recent TED talk in honor of National Disability Employment Month (NDEAM). You can listen to the TED talk here: https://www.ted.com/talks/stella_young_i_m_not_your_inspiration_thank_you_very_much?language=en
"Some of these people you knew had a disability. Others you did not. This reliance upon perceivable dysmorphia or disfigurement to serve as an initial classifier for determining disability status is based on one false, underlying premise that living with disabilities is not the same as being ‘normal’. The idea that someone could live with disabilities and be successful is too often told as an underdog story. In reality, these individuals did not achieve in spite of their experienced disabilities, but achieved because they were exceptional human beings. Eliza Suggs, born in 1876 with Brittle Bone disease, was offered money numerous times to be displayed as an ‘oddity’ for traveling ‘museums’. Rather than give in to a society that would rather gawk and use her as a tool for introspection, she finished her education and went on to be a prominent figure in the Temperance movement, even writing a memoir at the end of her life, Shadows and Sunshine. Disabled individuals are too often thought of as a tool to inspire, and in doing so we inadvertently attribute the significance of their accomplishments to their identity rather than their actions.
However, that is not always true. Too often are individuals living with disabilities who appear at face value physically well told that they could have it worse with their disability or have their unique societal obstacles downplayed. It is often reputed that the famed physician and mathematician Albert Einstein, suffered from dyslexia, and was often confronted by his teachers for not being able to grasp concepts as quickly as other students. How much more would it have taken for Einstein, or someone in a similar position, to be completely dissuaded of pursuing academia entirely?
Like everyone else, people living with disabilities are complex and may be deserving of praise or not, but the immediate objectification of them as symbols of unlikely achievement takes solely into consideration the perspective of an “abled” person and how they believe life would be as someone living with disabilities. That is not to say that differently abled individuals do not face obstacles, as nearly every societal construct has ingrained in it inadvertent preference for different abilities, whether it be stairs, signs, or standardized testing. People often think of Helen Keller when they think of individuals living with disabilities, and her story is inspiring due to the fact that she faced a dilemma in how to communicate and interface in society when it is in a simplistic view based around views and sounds. In spite of this, she learned not only how to communicate, but graduated cum laude of her university class, wrote many books, taught as a professor at university, and became the first ambassador to Japan post WW2.
The individuals I talked about today remind us that the human will to struggle toward meaning, success, and happiness is not differentiated based on the degree to which society challenges you to achieve them!"
Thank you Nick for these reflections! Do you want to continue this conversation with Inventors? Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to share your thoughts, questions, and resources!