As a student currently pursuing my Master’s Degree, I get a lot of the same questions over and over again, from friends, from family, and from people I’ve just met.  “Are you in school?”, “Where are you going to school?” and finally, “What are you studying?” My response usually provokes something along the lines of “What’s that?  Is that, like, working with disabled people?”

With adults, I usually tell them that it’s examining disability from a sociological viewpoint and leave it at that.  With kids and teens, I explain that it’s looking at how disabled people are treated in society.  I’m pretty sure most people have never even thought about disabled people or how we’re treated.  There’s a lot of conversation around sexism and racism in today’s age, even heterosexism (more often called homophobia), but not so much around ableism.

I’ve known since I was in high school, ever since I discovered that disability studies was a field of study, that I wanted to do disability studies for the rest of my life.  Unfortunately, since the Bachelor’s program in Disability Studies at CUNY didn’t exist yet, I was forced to major in what I thought was the closest thing to it – special education.  However, I didn’t realize that special education unfortunately had no place for someone who was actually disabled.  After a lot of discrimination, I left college with no teaching certification, disappointed and disillusioned, and more ready for disability studies than ever.

As I discovered during my time in college, most of the dialogue about disability is dominated by parents, teachers, caregivers, and other people in auxiliary positions.  Disability studies changes all that.  Disability studies as a whole confronts the prejudice of those fields (like special education) head on.  In disability studies, disability is not a problem, a diagnosis, or a “special need.”  It is a complex social phenomenon, intersecting with the odd individualism of our bodies.  That’s why disability studies is so important.  It gives disabled people our own voices and own agency – something that is sorely lacking in other discussions of disability.

Moreover, on a personal level, I have a passion for school now that I didn’t before.  Even when I’m tired, or sick, or just don’t feel like dragging myself to class, once I sit down in that classroom and listen to my professor and classmates, I feel exhilarated.  You would think a 2 ½ hour class would pass achingly slowly, but it usually zooms by, because I’m interested in the material.  I feel welcomed at CUNY SPS.  I’m a part of a community, something I never really felt during my undergraduate studies.  Most of all, I love listening to my classmates’ stories – because in this field, everyone has a story to tell.

Everyone has a story, and I bet you do too.  With one in five Americans identifying as having a disability, we are all closer to disability than we think.  I shared mine, now it’s your turn.  What’s your story?  Share with me in the comments!

Cara Liebowitz is a disabled activist and blogger currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in Disability Studies at CUNY SPS. She serves on the board of DREAM (Disability Rights, Education, Activism and Mentoring), an organization aimed at expanding opportunities for higher education students with disabilities. Cara was also one of the founding members of the I Am Norm Campaign, a national campaign promoting inclusion of people with disabilities in all aspects of society. You can read her blog at www.thatcrazycrippledchick.blogspot.com.

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