On Thursday evening, more than 60 University of Michigan students and faculty gathered in Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library to hear speakers in the 6th annual SpeakABLE event. The Services for Students with Disability Student Advisory Board organized SpeakABLE, a TED-style event promoting discussion on personal experiences and perspectives relating to disability.
LSA senior Felicity Harfield is an active member of the SSD/SAB and helped organize Thursday’s event. She said the objective of SpeakABLE is to provide a platform for people on campus to speak about disability in an environment that recognizes many different experiences with it.
“There are so many different types of disability — there’s learning, there’s physical, there’s emotional disability,” Harfield said. “We just kind of wanted to create a space that allowed people to share their experiences and hopefully educate people who don’t know about it.”
Engineering junior Shivani Kozarekar, a member of the Michigan Students for Disability Awareness, attended the event and said most of her experience discussing disability on campus takes place within meetings by organizations with a specific focus on discussing experiences with disability.
“This is the first time I’ve been to an event like this,” she said. “Other than this, they have meetings with the regents for disability awareness — I haven’t been able to go to any of those because they’re like in the middle of the day, in the middle of the afternoon.”
The SSD/SAB works to address issues relating to students with disabilities in the student body, and provides advice and assistance to the interim director of SSD, Dr. Alfred Kellam.
The event began with an address from Kellam. He said the expression of experiences with disability in a physical space is powerful, both for those who identify as part of that community as well as for those who do not.
“You get a chance to hear aspects of the world from a different perspective,” Kellam said. “And implicitly or explicitly, you get to map that onto your sense of the world and what your experience is and how that is different, and how that informs your understanding of who you are — and certainly helps you understand the person that’s presenting in front of you.”
The speakers at the event were largely undergraduate and graduate students and spoke about a wide range of experiences with disabilities and how those experiences have impacted them each differently.
Information senior Kayla Williams spoke later in the event. She talked about the lack of awareness many people have of her disability and the frequent explanations of her needs that she must do in order to address this lack of awareness.
“I have to advocate on a regular basis,” Williams said. “I have to advocate for myself and always have done so since I was a child.”
Ashley Wiseman, associate director and lecturer for the Global Scholars Program, then spoke on the challenges she previously faced in becoming proud of her identity.
“It would be years before I opened myself up to this beautiful community of people who share similar experiences to mine, who share an interdependent rather than independent way of being,” Wiseman said.
Regarding what message she hoped attendees of the event would walk away with, Harfield said attendees would likely have an individual experience with the many different perspectives of disability SpeakABLE encouraged.
“For me, overall, it’s just kind of the idea that there are disabilities out there, we accommodate them,” Harfield said. “And if you don’t know what they are and you don’t know what accommodations are needed, then listening to someone and going to this is what they need, this is what I’m going to do to help them, that’s the best that we can do.”