By: Nicole Miller
Conversations with my sister were the driving force behind my commitment to action. As a pediatric physical therapist, she knows first hand the struggles her children’s families face. Battles with insurance companies, school systems and public transportation are daily challenges for her patients. I was appalled by the lack of resources, the fight for necessary assistance and even with my own lack of understanding towards people with disabilities. The necessity of empathy and understanding, along with a conversation with Melanie Fedri, Coordinator of GWupstart Social Innovation Lab, compelled me to lead I AMdisABLE.
I AM disABLE is a weeklong tolerance awareness campaign for students and faculty with disabilities at The George Washington University. I AM disABLE seeks to educate the university family on proper etiquette and terminology to use while cohabitating with persons with disabilities. The campaign will participate in the Inside Out Project, a global participatory art project. Through sizeable portraits displayed on campus, I will highlight students and faculty’s personality over their diagnosis. In addition, there will be a week-long rally where students can pledge to cease the use of derogatory terms, such as retarded, and a DSS Speaker Bureau forum, where students can hear first hand the daily struggles of students and faculty’s work, school and social lives.
Ironically, my greatest challenge, right now, is finding students and faculty with disabilities to participate. I am a graduate student, who works a full-time job and attends classes at the Alexandria Graduate Education Center in Virginia. Being that the university, understandably, cannot directly give me the necessary information, I am using my creatively driven detective skills to find participants. Thankfully, I am not alone in this quest, as I have received support from GW Disability Support Services. Searching for participants allows me to create a personable relationship with the students and faculty I meet, which will make this campaign even more valuable.
Being completely transparent, while I AM disABLE allows me to combine all of my superpowers, advertising, publishing and non-profit style social awareness, I was overwhelmed and doubtful of my ability to pull something of this magnitude off. Even my travels to CGI U were rocky and bleak, thanks to Mother Nature’s unexpected snowy fury. Once I finally arrived in Miami, my fears seem to dissipate, just like the icicles attached to my luggage. CGI U was more than I could have ever expected. The kindness and obvious zeal each student had towards creating a better world was infectious and inspiring. My rocky travels caused me to miss most of the conference, but the sessions I was fortunate enough to attend, definitely changed my life.
At the Women at the Negotiating Table session, I was blessed to walk away with a golden nugget from a table visit with Mirsad “Miki” Jacevic. “We create culture! Inclusion creates a new culture!” Such a simple statement, but it holds such a strong presence in many aspects of my life. Aside from my commitment being driven by the shear factor, I am also a living example of inclusion, being an African American woman in search of social change. My absolute highlight of CGI U, and the confirmation of the necessity of I AM disABLE, was meeting Ria Gasaway, a junior at Iowa State University.
I traveled to CGI U solo and missed the opportunities to meet the fellow GDubb CGI U’ers, due to night classes. I was standing at a table devouring my first meal of the day, at 7 p.m., when Ria walked over and began to chat. Answering the infamous questions of the day, I shared my commitment with Ria. Unbeknownst to me, Ria was disabled. Physically, she was a beautiful young “normal” African American woman. Mentally, her ability to learn was quite “different.”
She shared her story with me of living with Visual Motor Deficiency. Visual Motor Deficiency affects the understanding of information that a person sees, or the ability to draw or copy. She shared her educational struggles and her fight of being tested during her adolescent years. In our culture, disabilities are often ignored or cited as ignorance or acting out. Her struggles of making people understand that her ability to miss subtle differences in shapes or printed letters would cause her to lose her place frequently. Thus, making her ability to retain information, that much harder. Her daily schedule certainly put all of my poorest days to shame. Her story and attending CGI U were the confirmation to me, that it is time for these stories to be heard. I just so happen to be the lucky gal who gets to deliver them.