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Stories | 07.10.23

Disability Pride Month: Students share the evolution of their views on their disabilities

July is Disability Pride Month, a time to celebrate the history, experiences, struggles, and successes of the disability community. It marks the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was signed in July 1990 and prohibits discrimination based on disability.

At Adler University, Disabilities Service within the Office of Student Affairs serves and supports students with disabilities by creating an accessible learning environment, removing barriers that impede full participation, and fostering full inclusion across the Adler community.

“We recognize that there are structural barriers that are important to remove to help all students thrive academically and professionally,” said Christena Gunther, assistant director of Disability Service and Student Affairs.

Any student with disabilities, including disabilities that affect a person’s vision, movement, thinking, remembering, learning, communicating, hearing, mental health, and social relationships is likely eligible for accommodations. At Adler, the most common disability groups with accommodations are students living with invisible disabilities: ADHD, mental health conditions — such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD, and chronic medical conditions.

Since 1 in 4 North Americans is likely to have some type of disability, Gunther remarked on the importance of having students with disabilities become mental health practitioners. Just as we want to see representation of other marginalized communities in our mental health workers, she said, “It’s vital for the field that practitioners with disabilities are represented and available for clients with different types of disabilities. The mental health care worker’s lived experience as a person with disabilities can enrich their practice and deepen their empathy and support for clients.”

For more information on psychology’s role in the disability movement and disability identities, Gunther suggests reading “#SaytheWord: A Disability Culture Commentary on the Erasure of ‘Disability.’”

At Adler, there are more than 300 students across all three campuses who receive accommodations. For Disability Pride Month, some of these students shared the joy and pride of living with disabilities by answering the following questions:

  • How have your views on your disability changed over time?
  • In what ways do you think your disability identity will enrich your professional goals?
  • Why is disability pride so important?
Photo of Carrie Holm and son

Carrie Holm and her son

Carrie L. Holm, Master of Arts in Psychology: Specialization in Military Psychology
Online Campus

When I first became disabled, I became severely depressed, especially since I wanted to retire from the U.S. Air Force. I was medically discharged due to seizures as a result of military service. At first, I believed I would never be able to do anything again, especially after losing my driver’s license for a period of five years when the seizures were out of control. Now I know I can do anything. I have three college degrees and working on my fourth.

Disability pride is important because it helps those with disabilities know they have support and that they can accomplish anything they set their mind to.

Photo of Noe Kochlani

Noe Kochlani

Noe Kochlani, Online, Master of Arts in Psychology
Online Campus

My views on my disability have significantly evolved since attending Adler. While I was aware of my disability before, I didn’t fully grasp its impact until Adler provided accommodations. Living with anxiety, ADHD, and PTSD has undoubtedly been challenging. However, I believe these experiences will contribute positively to my professional goals. My firsthand knowledge of facing similar challenges enables me to deeply empathize with and understand those with related experiences, ultimately enriching my career path.

Disability pride holds great significance as it fosters a sense of belonging and empowerment for those navigating various challenges. Before receiving accommodations, I was unaware of the extent to which my struggles were affecting me. Emphasizing the visibility and shared experiences of individuals with disabilities enables us understand each other better and create a more inclusive society. By openly discussing our journeys and expressing pride in our identities, we can inspire others to do the same, ultimately driving meaningful change and increased acceptance. 

Kate Morales

Kate Morales

Kate Morales, Master of Arts in Industrial and Organizational Psychology
Online Campus

My views on disability have definitely changed. I approach workplace language, accommodations, and challenges very differently today than I did before my diagnosis. Today, I view disability as leveling a playing field while maximizing everyone’s chance at success, whatever that means to them. My disability identity will help me to be a more compassionate leader, approach problems from unique angles, and be more inclusive in how I communicate with my teams.

Disability pride helps us recognize that while abilities vary, many different types of people can succeed in various fields. Our work may look different, but we bring a unique perspective to every situation we encounter, which should be celebrated.

Photo of Aelijah Lynch

Aelijah Lynch

Aelijah Lynch, Master of Arts in Counseling in Clinical Mental Health Counseling
Chicago Campus

The understanding of disability that was imparted to me as a child always seemed to suggest an extreme few, such that I did not know that the girl in my class who never spoke and moved differently was disabled. And I did not know that my grandmother suffering from rheumatoid arthritis was disabled (it was the ‘90s, in my defense). When severe chronic pain began to dog me in high school, I raged internally, not knowing that I was raging against my own developing identity as a disabled person. As an adult, now long privy to the beautiful, soulful, sorrowful, and joyful expressions of disabled people around the world, I cannot imagine my present, past, or future without disability. Professionally, disability informs every case conceptualization, every counseling session, and every consult I have because, destigmatized in myself, I see disability as the lens capable of setting every person free, given the opportunity.

Disability pride is important because of the fierce stigmatization, oppression, and eradication our community faces daily in every place on Earth. Given my perspective that disability is the lens that can set people free, the fact that disability is instead treated as deserved bondage in colonized/colonizing cultures across the globe is dangerous to all people everywhere. Without disability pride, no one can live into true, radical self-acceptance and interdependence.

Photo of Patrick Casey

Patrick Casey

Patrick (Patch) Casey, Master of Arts in Counseling in Clinical Mental Health Counseling Online Modality
Chicago Campus

I was 21 when I was diagnosed with ADHD (predominantly inattentive). The realization that I wasn’t lazy, careless, stupid, or defiant—that the perceptual blank spots and unhelpful behaviors weren’t a choice, they were part of my brain function—was life-changing. I had to work through a truckload of internalized ableism before I could accept support or a disability identity, though, because the culture stigma of disability is still very strong. It gives me insight into child and adolescent behavior, because young people are still developing the parts of the brain that I experience as disordered compared to the structures of the world around me. So I have a special empathy for young people who also struggling with the world around them. It also reminds me to check my biases, because I, too, have an invisible disability.

When any disability gets sweetened with “differently abled” or “superpowers,” etc., it takes away from the real experience of simply not being able (dis-abled) to do something. As well, disability is still heavily stigmatized, even if representation is improving. Similarly to queer identities, real people with real disabilities can be easily erased or excluded with simple, uncritical phrasing choices, venue, etc. When no one with a metaphorical mic talks about disability, visible or invisible, then people who could get help and support don’t. Visibility, acceptance, and education change lives.

Photo of Marissa Alvarez

Marissa Alvarez

Marissa Alvarez, Master of Arts in Counseling in Clinical Mental Health Counseling
Chicago Campus

I grew up thinking disability was only physical. My family and those around me told me I had no disability because I was able-bodied. I would try to describe my symptoms but was advised I only needed to “try harder.” My disability was not diagnosed until I could access and afford proper medical care. Since then, I have gained freedom in increased self-efficacy and self-esteem.

As much as I needed visibility for my disability, my disability needs visibility. As a young girl with undiagnosed ADHD, I was easily overlooked and expected to fit into a neurotypical education system. As a young woman with undiagnosed ADHD, I was told school was not for me and advised to drop out. As an adult graduate student with diagnosed ADHD, I am supported and understood by myself and those around me. I take pride in my superpower abilities my disabilities grant me.

Photos of Evelyn Travis

Evelyn Travis asks if you can tell which photos are from before and after the motorcycle accident.

Evelyn Travis, Master of Counselling Psychology: Art Therapy
Vancouver Campus

After my severe motorcycle accident, my perspective on disabilities underwent a significant transformation. I developed a newfound understanding and appreciation for invisible disabilities, those that may not be immediately apparent to others. This shift in perception will undoubtedly enhance and fortify my professional pursuits because I have experienced the challenges of living with chronic pain while appearing outwardly unaffected. This insight allows me to empathize and connect with individuals facing similar circumstances.

Sometimes I feel shame, guilt, or weakness at school because I cannot function as I did before the accident. However, I recently received valuable advice from one of my professors, who told me to give myself grace. This wisdom can be applied to all aspects of life, reminding me to be kind to myself and acknowledge that my journey may be different but still worthy of respect and admiration.

Disability pride holds immense importance in our society. It celebrates the diversity and strength within the disabled community, fostering a sense of belonging and empowerment. By embracing our disability as a part of our identity, we can challenge societal stigmas and promote inclusivity. It encourages us to be unapologetically ourselves, paving the way for a more compassionate and understanding world.

Photo of Tamara Flick-Parker

Tamara Flick-Parker

Tamara Flick-Parker, Master of Counselling Psychology
Vancouver Campus

Not having any disability until my 50s (I’m now in my early 60s) and having them become progressively worse and multiplying have really opened my eyes as to how people perceive me and others with both visible and invisible disabilities. My mobility issues, which I hope are temporary, have given me a glimpse into the world of those whose disabilities are permanent and/or more involved, and how they must manage daily. It’s very difficult to move around in this world when your body or mind or both doesn’t function at 100%. There are some improvements, due to the Accessible Canada Act (2019), in how businesses address this challenge, but overall, much more must be done. My one permanent disability (profound and complete hearing loss in one ear) happened quite suddenly in 2021, and I’m still learning to deal with this. It has been challenging, and sometimes I still get sad and angry. I went through a real grieving process over this.

I believe clients see that I can relate to their lives to some degree, even those who are young. Although I can’t relate to what it’s like to grow up with a disability or be in my 20s or 30s and be suddenly struck with a disability, and being told that this is how life will be forever, I think I understand their challenges better than someone without disabilities. For older clients who, like me, had no disabilities when they were younger and now suddenly must deal with something they hadn’t imagined for their lives, I can relate very well. A grieving process happens when you have something like (easy) mobility taken from you or any when other life-altering changes happen. I empathize with their disappointment. I hope I can help them work through the multitude of feelings one has when living with a disability and, as we age, have to change our life plans to meet our new needs.

For so long, many people with disabilities, or those who are differently abled, have lived with ridicule, shame, and a lack of understanding from others. For those who have learned to overcome, to any degree, the challenges of their disability, including non-physical disabilities, it’s time for our hard work to live in this world to be acknowledged and celebrated. We must show those who do not have to live with our challenges that we are strong, resilient, and will not be dismissed. Differently abled people have proven that our disability/ies do not completely define us, but that a disability is a part of who we are. We might need a little help to be as independent as possible, but showing our pride as a counsellor, engineer, teacher, government official, athlete, medical professional, and many other walks of life who live with a disability or multiple challenges tells the world we are capable. Hopefully, those who can make changes to how the world functions will see and understand and be able to create change and one day we will be accepted and accommodated in every aspect of life.

Students seeking to request accommodations or to learn more about accessibility in the Chicago and Online campuses can email [email protected] or call 312-662-4141. For the Vancouver Campus, students can email [email protected] or call 236-521-2433.

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