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There was once a young girl with a learning disability. She was quiet, socially awkward, and kept to herself but was kind and intelligent. One day a girl in class she liked talked to her for the first time. The young girl was ecstatic. However, the following day that same classmate came up to her and said I hate you and walked away. What is hate? The dictionary says its a tense or passionate dislike of someone. Yet, is that all it is? It’s a way to put someone down, to build confidence, to get your way.

A teenage boy is bullied at school and struggles with his classes. He is always worried and anxious about everything. His ticks and obsessive-compulsive behaviors interfere. His grades drop and he wants to drop out of high school. Yet, he did not quit school due to a single teacher’s devotion to him. He followed his passion. He received his masters and became one of the top employees at his workplace.

Laura MacKenzie loves to learn about the world around her. She adores animals and has a dog and cat. She is always observing, thinking, and analyzing. Her goal is to become a police consultant/instructor on community relations and disability. Laura is enrolled in the Advanced Certificate in Disability Studies here at CUNY SPS.

People are not very open about suicidal ideation. It can be embarrassing and shameful for some. People with emotional/mental issues tend to cover up their suffering. They do not want others to see it or be a burden. People will suffer in silence and fight it the best they can. When people are suicidal they hide it, but there are signs. Professionals are always looking for these signs, knowing that right before suicide; people are calm and happy because they know they will no longer suffer. People often misinterpret this calmness and happiness as the person doing better. Unfortunately, by this point it is usually too late.

Laura MacKenzie loves to learn about the world around her. She adores animals and has a dog and cat. She is always observing, thinking, and analyzing. Her goal is to become a police consultant/instructor on community relations and disability. Laura is enrolled in the Advanced Certificate in Disability Studies here at CUNY SPS.

This post was written by Jonathan Rodriguez, a recipient of the CUNY School of Professional Studies ACE Scholarship

When I think back on my first two semesters here at the CUNY SPS, I remember how difficult and frustrating they were. I remember wanting to quit because I felt overwhelmed, as if I was swimming against the current. However, I knew I could not quit because I made a promise to my infant son when he was born that I would finish what I started, so I began to search for something to help me organize and prioritize my time. I want to share one of the things I found helpful to manage my days and relieve some of my stress.

I was reading a book by one of my favorite authors, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey. One of the people he highlighted created a calendar of his days to help him organize his time and maximize his efforts. I went to Staples and purchased a two-month dry erase calendar and began to write out the things that needed my attention for each day, in life, at school, and for myself.

This helped me to find the time I needed to dedicate to class work and set deadlines for work that was visible daily. The calendar also allowed me to make time for myself, meaning I was able to dedicate time to refresh myself with a walk around the block, watch my favorite television show, play some Candy Crush, or spend time at the gym. Like many people, I am a visual person, so when I find myself always forgetting assignments or stressed because I do not know where time is going, I visualize it with a calendar, something that I must look at daily.

I am now coming to the last semester at CUNY SPS and it has been challenging and fun throughout my time. I hope my little life hack helps you during your time at CUNY SPS. This was never easy, but it was worth it. You don’t have to give up or give into the stress; you can complete what you started just like me.

Organize your days and remember to take care of yourself. The worst thing you can do is burn out. Make time for yourself; do whatever it is that refreshes you because it will benefit your work and your longevity. God Speed as you go through this semester and every one that follows.

Jonathan Rodriguez is a recipient of the CUNY SPS ACE Scholarship, a scholarship program designed to support high-achieving undergraduate students Achieve College Education (ACE). He will graduate from the Business program at the end of this semester. 

“She has been convicted. Bail revoked.”

Those are the words I received in an email from a former professor of mine. Anna Stubblefield was convicted of two accounts of rape. The verdict reached my email on Friday at 11:59am.

I know, some people are happy. They think, “A rapist has been put in jail and now Dman and his family can begin to heal.” That statement is the furthest from the truth.

The disability community is in so much emotional pain right now. For myself and so many of the members of the disability community this is history on repeat. Over and over again we are denied rights, are silenced and locked away. All because society has placed us in a figurative box, we can’t be sexual, we’re not worthy of love and we’re not people. Having impairments dehumanizes us according to society. If we can’t speak the way society demands we do, then we’re truly invisible.

Twelve people—a mixture of women and men of many different racial backgrounds, all of them appearing able-bodied, ruined two lives, those of Anna Stubblefield and Dman Johnson. Did they know what they were doing? Yes. They had a different viewpoint though. Those people thought as they sat in the jury room that they had the power to “save the disabled boy,” “make things right” and “serve justice” because, “She should’ve known better than to be sexual with someone physically helpless and mentally defective.”

Let’s take a glimpse at who they really imprisoned. Literally speaking, Stubblefield is sitting behind bars. She’s not serving a life sentence so eventually she’ll be free. Or will she? Stubblefield can never get a job working in any kind of teaching position EVER again. Once she is free, finding a place to live might be difficult, as her name will be added to the sex offender’s list. She’s lost her place in the world. Her name will forever be tainted.

With the guilty verdict also came a second imprisonment: Dman’s. No, he’s not literally behind bars. Instead he’s serving a “life sentence” of being denied independence, his voice and a life of his own. His voice forever silenced by the State of New Jersey. Not once was he allowed to speak during a trial that revolved around him. Instead the prosecution made assumptions. They ASSUMED he was “mentally defective” and “physically helpless.” He will remain forever imprisoned in society’s perception of disability.

As a member of the disability community, I can’t help but feel angry, upset and guilty about the entire situation. I’m angry because it’s 2015 and the state of New Jersey still views disability through a eugenics mindset. To the state, Dman and Stubblefield could never have loved one another. How could they? Stubblefield is able-bodied and Dman is disabled. They still frame love as an emotion that is exclusively open and entitled to able-bodied people. In contrast, people with disabilities are believed to be non sexual—“She can’t have sex, she’s in a wheelchair,” or “He’s too mentally defective to consent to sex or know what is going on.” People with disabilities shouldn’t be sexual or romantically involved with each other or able-bodied people because they’re inferior, simply because society can’t or doesn’t want to process the concept of us having sexual desires or romantic relationships. The moment people realized Dman could be and was sexual was when the relationship between Stubblefield and him was torn apart. This is eugenics era thinking, an outdated way of perceiving disabilities and the people who have them.

I’m also upset because after all that we, as people with disabilities have experienced—sterilization, institutionalization, the fight for civil rights leading to the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990—all of these milestones are meaningless if society still views people who use different methods of communication or have “severe physical disabilities” as “mentally defective” and “physically helpless.” The outcome of the Stubblefield case demonstrates that we still have a long way to go as a society in terms of the acceptance and inclusion of people with disabilities. After the verdict, I’m wondering when and if our society will ever get to that point.

Lastly, I feel guilty. As irony would have it, I received the news of the verdict as I was on my way to a CUNY Coalition for Students with Disabilities (CCSD) meeting. We were electing a new E-board and discussing various ways in which we can create change and make the overall CUNY experience better for students with disabilities. How could I think of creating change with and for my fellow disabled CUNY students when Dman was locked in the narrow box of society’s perceptions of disability and the one person who had the chance at helping him gain independence was sitting behind bars? All because they loved and wanted to be with each other? It just didn’t feel right. It still doesn’t. I get to spend time with each person I love and care about while the legal system denies Dman and Stubblefield that same opportunity.

My thoughts and support go out to Dman, Stubblefield, everyone that knows them and the disability community during this very sad and difficult time. If I’ve learned anything from this case, it’s that I need and will continue to advocate for and alongside the disability community, especially for the members of the community who use different forms of communication and are silenced by society. None of them will go unheard.

#freeDman #FreeAnna

Danielle Lucchese is a second year graduate student in CUNY SPS’s MA in Disability Studies program. Born and raised in Staten Island, she moved to Manhattan last year at the start of her CUNY SPS experience. When Danielle’s not hitting the books or writing papers, she enjoys exploring New York City, photography, writing poetry, playing volleyball, reading fantasy novels, listening to music and spending time with family and friends. 

The Leftovers, HBO’s drama based on the novel of the same name written by Tom Perrotta, returned this Sunday for its second season. Season 1 focused primarily on the people of Mapleton, a fictional town about an hour drive north of Manhattan, and their dealing with the mysterious disappearance of 2% of the world’s population. In season 2 the story shifts to Jarden, Texas, appropriately nicknamed Miracle National Park, as not one person was taken from them in the Sudden Departure.

There is a bleak nature to The Leftovers, unlike anything else on TV at the moment (perhaps the only thing close in the “dark” department is, oddly enough, Review, which is great, but a comedy) that sucked me in entirely midway through last year’s first season. It’s grim. It’s depressing. Add that to a level of despair that will undoubtedly turn people off. It’s a divisive show, with a view of the world most people wouldn’t dare tackle nor one they want to be a part of.

Damon Lindelof, co-creator/writer, is no stranger to polarizing television. When LOST ended it’s 6 season run in 2010, many were unhappy, feeling they were left with more questions than answers. I was not one of those people, but I can’t argue with those who thought the show should’ve gone in a different direction. I didn’t agree with all the decisions made regarding the final couple of seasons, but I believe no less in Lindelof, who helped create something wholly original and unique, unlike anything else on TV then and with its failed copycats in the years since.

Alan Sepinwall, excellent TV critic for Hitfix.com, posted a wonderfully candid interview with Lindelof that gives great insight into the process of creating such a show, and the pitfalls of controlling something the magnitude of LOST.

The Leftovers is a show about grief, but it’s also a show about hope. A hope that these people can move on with their lives. Maybe not to rebuild the lives they once had, but to expand on lives they never thought possible. The departed are not coming back. We, the viewer, have been told by the creators that we won’t ever find out what happened to them. That focuses us entirely on what’s happening on-screen, right in front of us. There’s a supernatural aspect of the show that’s exciting in a non-alien way. No matter what your religious allegiances, it’s a show that tests your faith.

Mapleton has burned, figuratively, and to a point, literally. The Garveys, along with Nora (Carrie Coon’s performance as Nora Durst is transcendent and one of the great new TV finds in recent memory) are leaving that behind to start anew. I can’t wait to join them.

Here’s a beautiful piece of music from season 1’s Soundtrack. Part of a deep, emotional, and often contemplative score:

Twitter: @BobbyJDaniels

Robert is a current student here at CUNY SPS, pursuing a degree in Communication and Media. He is interested in platforms of media, especially those related to digital media; and a fan of serious film as well as this current golden age of television.

There have been so many times when I’ve felt like life was impossible. Whether it was work, home or tough circumstances, facing a wall of doubt and fear isn’t easy. Maybe you’ve also felt this way at some point, but I’m here to share that I’ve learned “impossible” all depends on how you look at it.

In May of 1999 I was finishing up the spring semester at a private university and was 47 credits away from my BA in Health Care Administration—I was on my way to accomplishing a dream—getting my bachelor’s degree! Everything came to a sudden halt that June with the unexpected death of my father. It was a really difficult time for my family and I, and I knew school had to be put on the back burner while I helped my mother and family get through this…and I myself needed to figure out this new life without my dad. Years went by and things moved forward as best they could, but I left the dream of finishing my degree on the funeral home steps that year.

I thought about going back to school for years, but the older I got the smaller that thought became; it just seemed impossible. One day a friend challenged me to find a school, fill out an application and apply. I usually can’t resist a good challenge so I thought to myself, “fine, I’ll just apply.” I hadn’t been in school for FIFTEEN years so going back was impossible in my mind!

Guess what? I was accepted into CUNY School for Professional Studies and fifteen (15) years later, I find myself working towards my BA in Psychology! Psychology of all majors!! Impossible! Truthfully, I was scared to death of what it would be like to juggle a full time job, a hectic home life and school. Perhaps psychology was a perfect choice since I wondered what I was thinking!!

The thought of going back to school seemed impossible, learning how to study again seemed impossible, the hard work seemed impossible, but then I realized it’s just about how I was looking at that word. Impossible. The word impossible itself has motivation built in it—impossible for me became I’M possible!! When I felt overwhelmed and questioned my decision to return, I say to myself DIANNE, I’M POSSIBLE and I’m reminded I can do this and I’m doing it!!!! I’ve now completed 4 semesters and I couldn’t be happier! It’s hard work, but it’s also given me back the ability to dream about the day I get my degree. Impossible is a word of the past!

So, if you’ve let go of a dream like I had, or are just facing a really tough time in your life right now and the circumstances seem impossible, I encourage you to take a breath, say a prayer and remember nothing is impossible—if I’M POSSIBLE then so are you!!!

Till next time……

Dianne

Dianne Galasso is a Brooklyn native since birth! In 1991, she received her AAS in Journalism from Kingsborough Community College. She studied at St. John’s University from 1993-1999. Dianne has had photographic and written work published, as well as has edited for other published authors. Since 1991, Dianne has worked at a medical center in Brooklyn in various job functions, currently as a Manager in the Nursing Education Department. She has coached girls’ softball, volunteered in the women’s and children’s ministry in her local church and is an active resource in the lives of children.  After a 15 year hiatus from school, Dianne is currently a student at CUNY SPS where she is pursuing her BA in Psychology.

Marcy Lewis graduated from the CUNY School of Professional Studies with a B.A. in Psychology just last week. She shares advice for new students, and talks about how she overcame many obstacles on the way to completing her degree.

Marcy Lewis is a recent graduate from the Psychology program.

1. What was your motivation/inspiration for completing your bachelor’s degree? Why did you choose to continue your education at CUNY SPS?

I have had so many things that have motivated me to complete my bachelor’s degree. Coming from a broken family of low socio-economic status and having my first child when I was very young created a desire for me to show my children that stereotypes do not define who you are or what you can accomplish. I wanted to do better for myself as well as my children and to inspire them that even in hard times you can still achieve your dreams.

I chose CUNY SPS because it offered me the complete package of what I was searching for in a University: flexibility, accreditation, affordability, positive reputation for online programs and a strong background in the academic success rates.

2. What is it like to earn a degree fully online?

Earning a degree online has been a mixture of ease and difficulty. I find that I learn better using this method of instruction yet when speaking with those who attend “traditional” classes it seems there is often a greater work load in online classes. I have found that it is crucial to be somewhat ahead of the game; slacking is just not an option as it will pull you behind faster than you could imagine. It really takes commitment, self-discipline, and structure to stay on top of all of your assignments. Being late can really affect not only your work but the work of the entire class. However, despite these difficulties I would not have taken any other route in getting my degree as it truly was the best fit for me.

3. What is the greatest piece of advice you received while at CUNY SPS?

Many of the professors I had here at CUNY SPS offered a similar piece of advice that I found to be quite crucial throughout my college path; taking care of yourself is vital to not just the body but the mind as well. Being someone with a chronic illness, Multiple Sclerosis, this can be quite difficult but I was able to incorporate much of the knowledge and skills I gained through my studies in increasing my overall wellness. By doing so I was able to significantly decrease the stress of being ill, taking care of a family, and taking a full course load each semester. To me, this was crucial in completing my degree.

4. What advice would you like to extend to someone considering entering the Psychology program at CUNY SPS?

The greatest piece of advice I could offer someone considering entering the Psychology program at CUNY SPS would be to interact as much as possible with your professors and classmates as this is how you will get the most out of your academic journey. Asking questions for clarification or direction as well as checking in regularly and participating in the class or group discussions are all vital in achieving greater learning in the online Psychology program. One of the main focuses I found in my online classes was concept of learning not just from the professors but from fellow classmates as well; we learn from each other and we succeed with each other.

5. In which ways have you grown as a result of your studies at CUNY SPS?

As a result of my studies at CUNY SPS I have grown intellectually through the new knowledge I acquired from professors and classmates. I have grown more confident in my abilities and with myself, not just in a professional manner but in personal matters as well. Most of all, I have learned that living with a disease that I cannot control does not mean I have to succumb to its disruption. It is empowering to know that you can take control over something so destructive and that is something that I do not know if I would have learned had I not continued pursing my education here at CUNY SPS.

6. What does earning a bachelor’s degree mean to you?

To many people earning a bachelor’s degree means a higher salary and greater prestige. Those, after all, were some of the reasons that enticed me to start undergraduate school. However, during my second semester I became ill and everything changed. I could have just quite when my doctor said I was unable to work. Why continue if I will never be able to use a degree? The answer is this; a bachelor’s degree meant so much more to me. It meant showing my children that no matter what life deals you to never give up. It meant keeping faith that maybe I can beat the illness and not let the illness beat me; maybe someday I CAN put it to use. It meant showing those nay-sayers that people can overcome adversity no matter how big or small and to never underestimate the underdog. It meant proving to myself that I can accomplish whatever I put my mind to.

7. What kind of impact do you think your degree will have on your professional and personal lives?

Having my bachelor’s degree will most definitely have beneficial impacts on my professional and personal life… if I am able to return to work. Before school I was a waitress, working long hours/weekends/holidays, constantly missing out on my children’s lives, living day to day on tips never knowing how much I would make; thankfully, those days are over. A bachelor’s degree in Psychology increases my job prospects in such a wide array of professions. Living in North Carolina I am able to take the needed exams to secure a teaching license or I can opt to work in my chosen field and assist with grief counseling for military families in my area… the options are quite plentiful as a Psychology degree is so versatile and can be beneficial in social work, business management, customer service, education, mental health etc. etc. etc… My degree has also benefited me personally because I have been able to incorporate skills I have gained to help family and friends during difficult times.

8. What do you hope to do after graduation?

After graduation I would like to work on getting stronger both physically and mentally so that I can return to work. I am hoping to either work with children and families in crisis or become teacher at the elementary level. Perhaps one day I will return to school; however, for now I would like to focus on my health and re-entering the work industry. But first I am going to take a little R&R and enjoy life, my family, and yes… the beaches of Coastal North Carolina.

Peter Magri is a student in our new online Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing program. He explains why he enrolled here at CUNY SPS and what he expects to gain from his degree.

Peter Magri

1. Why did you choose to continue your education at CUNY SPS?

CUNY SPS offered the sense of continuity for me within the CUNY system since I had recently graduated from the Nursing Program at Queensborough Community College. I had come to trust the faculty at QCC and thought that it would be a good fit. I also was happy to hear that SPS used BlackBoard, which was also used at QCC, so the online demographic would be easy to fit into.

2. What is the single most important professional or personal goal that you would like to achieve during your studies at CUNY SPS or after graduation?

I would really like to land a job as a nurse. I have been on so many interviews and have applied to countless jobs and have yet to be hired in a hospital. I would like to get into critical care or the fast pace of a busy ER to really prove my skill sets to myself and those from nursing school.

3. How have you grown intellectually as a result of your studies at CUNY SPS?

I have definitely broadened my assessment techniques and understand the body and how it works because of the Pathophysiology class I took. I also have learned so much about culture and teaching and how important it is to incorporate a patient’s culture in the plan of care.

4. What advice would you offer to someone considering applying for admission to the program?

APPLY! I am so glad I did. The faculty are warm and are always there to assist you through anything that may concern you. You may feel that since it is an online program that you would get lost in the shuffle, but there is nothing further from the truth. They’re there with you every step of the way.

We also asked Peter a few fun questions about his life and his studies.

1. Place of residence: Franklin Square, New York.

2. Favorite CUNY SPS course: NURS301-Assessment.

3. Weirdest place you have studied: Oh God…really??? OK—the toilet.

4. Your favorite music to play while studying: I actually don’t like to listen to music while I study; I like to have CNN on in the background.

5. Best thing about your community or NYC: It’s close to Manhattan and my parents live just down the block from me! Always get great home-cooked meals!

Thank you, Peter, for bringing such a positive attitude about online learning and a passion for the field of nursing to your work here at CUNY SPS!

Dating With Disabilities by Keith R. Murfee-DeConcini originally appeared on the YAI Network’s blog Voice.

At the end of my last blog, which was about Seeing Beyond Disability, I mentioned a social connection of mine that might progress. Since that post, my relationship has done just that, and I have spent some time thinking about dating and disability.

Online dating has made it easier for people in general to meet each other. However, living in this day and age of online connections, a double-edge sword presents itself. Every day — the ability to be more socially connected or to be more lonely.

Someone can be anyone online—they can be true representations of who they are in person, or they can become a digitalized recreation into some “ideal” image of themselves. As such, they can find and connect with a vast audience that is extremely diverse. Nowadays, people could meet each other in ways not possible a decade ago and in some instances, the internet can be the only way for certain people to meet.

Online connection however doesn’t always meet our social needs or ward off loneliness. Loneliness can feel like one of the worst experiences in life, and hearing well-meaning sayings such as, “You must learn to love yourself before anyone else can,” can only dull the often uncontrollable ache, especially if you hear it time and time again. Learning to love oneself is a lifelong journey after all.

Of course, there can always be a combination of social engagement and loneliness at the same time, especially for people with disabilities, who are often socially marginalized from their peers who don’t have disabilities, or even from each other. There may be more social inclusion and acceptance through online connection today, but isolation, suspicion of and stigmatization against people with disabilities is still a problem throughout society.

Meeting Amber

I met my partner, Amber, through an online dating/social networking site. Soon after we connected, I proceeded to totally ignore her for a week when I went on a meditation retreat. You know, just how all the dating guide books tell you a great relationship should start!

Given that it is the start of a relationship, the “honeymoon phase” as it’s often called, can be very passionate and exciting—with a natural amount of uncertainty. There are a lot of hopes, fears and expectations during this “discovery stage” that may or may not come true.

At the beginning of a new relationship there is hope that the other person will accept, understand, like, and maybe even love us; the hope that they will turn out to be who we want them to be in terms of sharing our values, sense of humor, ways to spend time, etc. There are fears that neither of us will live up to these hopes. There is the expectation that we’ll give each other a fair shot at finding out if we’re a good match. This is a time of exploring our differences and the things we share in common. How does disability impact this?

When one partner has a disability and the other does not, which is the case for Amber and me, things can get very interesting: especially considering that we will probably have to contend with, at one point or another, not only what we are learning and feeling about each other; but with opinions and questions from others that will make us cringe.

Questions about my voice will undoubtedly come up and some people will stare. Although it hasn’t happened yet, friends might ask Amber why she’s with me because in their opinion, she could do so much better. After all, why would anyone want to settle for “less” than they deserve?

While this may be a common experience for anyone becoming a new couple who endures criticism of their partner from friends and family, it can be magnified for people with disabilities, who are often judged on things besides their character, values and other traits that might make them good partners. Disability is an easy target as the deciding factor of the potential success or failure of a relationship, most often failure.

These things may or may not happen, but I have faith that if two people have inner strength, level heads about them and good communication between them, then love has a chance to endure.

Cary and Melissa 

Cary and Melissa are a testament to the idea of steadfast dedication in a relationship. They have been together for two years, and from them I have learned that each phase of a relationship has its ups and downs.

Several years ago, I met Cary at American University in Washington DC while taking a music course. We met in class when the teacher pointed us out to each other and the fact that we both had Cerebral Palsy—in front of the entire class. While that introduction was an unsavory experience, it sparked a lifelong friendship.

He and I shared many things in common besides our Cerebral Palsy, chief among them our fondness for music—and our dating woes. We always seemed to get led on by women, only to get our hopes dashed for a genuine connection. I know that this type of “leading on” or “being played” happens to people without disabilities as well and that guys do it to women, too. People with disabilities, however, are often more easily dismissed. I talked to a woman on the phone that I had met online through a dating site and the following day I asked her through a text message if my voice was what she had expected; she replied: “I expected your voice to be as handsome as you are.” I am still trying to figure out if that is a compliment or not.

Cary had a number of short relationships that ended in frustration and heartbreak before he met Melissa, who had gone through similar experiences. Melissa did not have a disability, but like Cary, longed for a real and meaningful connection. They met online through a dating site and started talking. Cary mentioned on his profile that he had Cerebral Palsy and Melissa, who had no idea what that was, looked it up. She was curious about him, having been attracted to his sense of humor, and decided to take a chance by meeting him in person. That was over two years ago.

I had lunch with Cary and Melissa the other day and, after sharing their story, Cary said to me, “I think people with disabilities often have idealistic expectations of what it means to be in a relationship and what I have learned is that being in a relationship is a lot of hard work.” Melissa smiled and nodded in agreement.

Things are not always easy for Cary and Melissa. Sometimes when they are out, they experience stigma and downright discrimination. One time at a bar, a man got up from his seat to go to the bathroom and when he returned to find Cary in his seat, he said to the friend he was with, “I can’t believe you gave my seat to a cripple!”

This made both Melissa and Cary understandably angry and reminded them that ignorance and fear of difference unfortunately persist.

The Disability Factor

The dating dilemma that many people with disabilities find themselves in, more often than not, is that they are not given a chance to date. People without disabilities are simply not open to it. As one of my cousins pointed out to me the other night, “When people think about dating and the dating culture, they don’t really think about people with disabilities, and if they do, it is often how to exclude them from dating. The thought of them [people with disabilities] dating, makes us [people without disabilities] uncomfortable.” While this is not always the case, it is common enough to mention.

In some ways I understand the notion behind the fear of dating someone with a disability. There’s the common misconception that the partner without a disability will end up being a caregiver more than an equal partner, and the view that disability is a weakness rather than a strength. A former partner of mine said that she thought that women were probably intimidated by my disability and what it implied about my needs as a partner, and that they did not know how to get past their fearful reaction.

Having a disability should not be a deterrent to emotional connection, especially in the romantic sense. A person with a disability might want to date someone who also has a disability, for reasons such as mutual attraction and shared understanding. Or they might want to date someone who does not have a disability for the same or other reasons.

The common assumption that two people should date because they both have disabilities, or that they are dating because they both have disabilities, is very annoying. It’s like assuming that two people who are tall, for example, should date or are dating because they are tall. A person with a disability should have the freedom to date whomever they chose—and experience the same risks of heartbreak and love and everything in between—just like everyone else.

To be desired and to feel loved is one of the cornerstones of what it means to be human, and it should be available to everyone, regardless of difference, be it an accent, walking style, learning style or something else. Humans have had this very unhealthy obsession with sameness for far too long, and any difference has been met with fear and has been demonized as a result.

Yes, to be in a relationship with someone with a disability requires taking a chance and giving that person a chance. But the same is true in regards to any relationship. Dating someone with a disability may or may not have more, or maybe different challenges, but that does not make the relationship or the partner any less worthy of taking a risk and trying to make a meaningful connection.

It takes strong people to look beyond disability, and to have the emotional fortitude to look within to see that we all have talents, limitations and the ability to offer love.

Keith R. Murfee-DeConcini is a graduate student at CUNY School of Professional Studies in its Disability Studies program and a disability advocate. He is also an intern with YAI Network where he regularly contributes to their blog Voice. Born in New York City, he’s lived all over the country. When not in New York, Keith resides in Tucson, Arizona, where he’s getting a master’s degree in Public Administration from the University of Arizona.

Seeing Beyond Disability by Keith R. Murfee-DeConcini originally appeared on the YAI Network’s blog Voice.

A few months ago, I was having coffee with a friend from CUNY, telling her about this internship and I mentioned the slogan of YAI, “Seeing Beyond Disability.” She took issue with it, commenting that people should not have to see beyond disability, they should just see disability and accept it as a part of the person. Ideally, yes that should happen; however, we do not live in an ideal world. Sometimes people have to see beyond disability first, in order to be able to come back and accept disability.

I remember a few years back, I was having lunch with a very dear friend of mine near Lincoln Center when we saw a couple dressed up, on their way to what we assumed was their prom or some other formal event. What was striking about this couple was the young woman, who was wearing a bright red dress, had a metallic prosthesis for her left leg. She could not have been older than seventeen or eighteen and yet the confidence in the way in which she walked arm in arm with her date was stunning.

In a conversation with another friend, my disability came up and my friend said, “I can’t believe people call you or think of you as disabled! I don’t.” When I asked her what she considered “being disabled” meant, she said she considered it being human. Her answer has stayed with me ever since because that was the first time someone had said something that bold, that it started to shift my view of having a disability to one of having a shared experience in relating to disability, especially in seeing the hidden disabilities in others around us.

I was finishing up a lunch meeting with my pastor in Tucson, Arizona, and as we were walking back to his car, he echoed the same statement of not considering me disabled. Now, it is important to point out that neither of them considers disability as something negative, something that should be feared and avoided. They could see my disability as a part of me, rather than being all of me; which is what most people see when they see a person with a disability. They see only the disability and not the person who happens to have a disability. A disability is a part of a person but it does not make up the person.

I like to meet new people whenever possible and recently a close connection was formed through a social networking site. When the topic of my voice came up, through promoting last week’s blog post, I asked the person if she could get used to my voice, especially if our connection progressed. She said, “Your natural accent is a part of what makes you who you are and that’s beautiful.”

Seeing beyond a disability is not hard to do, it allows a person to see another person’s full potential while being aware of all the parts that make up that person. Seeing beyond is not ignoring. It is about accepting, even if that acceptance is not right away in some cases. So if you are struggling with the “seeing beyond” concept or know someone who is, as a person who has experienced both stigma and acceptance, I offer this advice: Take a risk, see the whole person, and plan to be surprised.

Keith R. Murfee-DeConcini is a graduate student at CUNY School of Professional Studies in its Disability Studies program and a disability advocate. He is also an intern with YAI Network where he regularly contributes to their blog Voice. Born in New York City, he’s lived all over the country. When not in New York, Keith resides in Tucson, Arizona, where he’s getting a master’s degree in Public Administration from the University of Arizona.