By Heidi Cho
Students for Disability Awareness (SDA) hosted its third annual (Dis)ability Monologues on Thursday, Oct. 6, in room 212 of the Education Building. Speakers openly shared their stories with peers and demonstrated what it means to live with a disability and be different, but certainly not less.
“When you take the ‘dis’ out of ‘disability,’ you are left with abilities that are slightly different or better than yours, or on a different level, but everyone just has different abilities,” said Marcia Schleppy, SDA co-president and a junior special education and psychology double major.
Disability is a part of the speakers’ lives, but they do not let their disabilities stop them from going after what they want. That night, SDA created a space for students to speak about their stories free from interruption or stigma.
“Our main goal is to have people from the disability community have their voices heard,” said Emily DiRusso, SDA co-president and a junior special education and sociology double major. “In the general community, sometimes, there is not really an opportunity for them to be heard, so this gives them an open forum where it is them.”
Career and community studies alumnus Daniel Lapidow (’15) shared his story and compared his struggle with dyslexia to the biblical story of Daniel in the lions’ den.
The snarling lions in his story were fellow students, teachers and aides from Lapidow’s middle school. The den, according to Lapidow, was the public school system that told him that he was not disabled, only so stupid that he could not spell his own name correctly.
Lapidow’s saving grace was the teachers and others he met in ninth grade who acted as his guardian angels. In his speech, Lapidow urged everyone in the audience to be someone else’s guardian angel.
Aditi Mahapatra, a senior psychology and public health double major, echoed a similar sentiment for people to sympathize with pain that cannot be seen.
“I encourage you to care,” Mahapatra said. She told the audience about an unintentional social experiment she recently conducted, which showed the contrasting reactions of others toward visible and invisible pain.
An injury forced Mahapatra to wear a cast. She quickly noticed that people would gladly let her take the elevator, even if it was only for one floor.
When the cast was taken off, the pain remained and was now invisible to those around her.
When this invisible disability was causing pain, Mahapatra would ask a friend to take the elevator with her. This time, her friends would roll their eyes and reluctantly agree to the request.
Mahapatra used the example to describe the double standard she has witnessed far too often: only disabled people who look sick are treated with empathy and kindness.
To prove her point, Mahapatra proposed a hypothetical situation where a person with a full head of hair tells you they have cancer.
“You don’t tell them (that) they don’t look sick,” Mahapatra said.
According to Cornell University’s 2014 disability statistics, 12.6 percent of Americans are disabled. About 10 percent of Americans have an invisible disability, the University of Massachusetts reported in 2015.
To keep people from invalidating the pain of so many, it helps to inform others of what ignorant words can do. It is a matter of asking what a disabled person can do, instead of what they cannot.
“It is also important for people who do not have disabilities, who have not yet been touched by somebody with a disability or in that community, to hear the experiences of people (who have) and realize that the differences are not bad, and the differences are not big,” Schleppy said.