Marlboro College celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act with a series of events during the first week of November. These included film screenings, talks, and discussions, as well as a campus-wide action on November 5 where community members spent a full day using walkers, wheelchairs, and other assistive devices.
“As a faculty member with a disability who is also a professional actress and writer, I embrace the anniversary of the ADA as a timely reminder of the need to create more opportunities for people with disabilities,” says Brenda Foley, Marlboro theater and gender studies professor. “A committee composed of staff, students, and faculty, including those with multiple and varied disabilities, organized the celebration as a way to encourage awareness of—and support for—the diverse range of disabilities in our community.”
“Our goal was to heighten awareness and educate our community about the ADA legislation, and to inspire us to continue the struggles,” says Catherine O’Callahan, assistant dean of academic advising and support, who convened the committee.
The week of events was initiated by disability rights advocate Sarah Launderville (Vermont Council on Independent Living), who led a community-wide “dedicated hour” discussion addressing the complexity of the concept of “limitation.” Later in the week, Deborah Lisi-Baker (Center on Disability and Community Inclusion, University of Vermont) articulated the need for an expansive pedagogy at the college to address all disabilities, from learning to mobility.
There were screenings of Lives Worth Living, a PBS documentary on the disability rights movement, and Disability Liberated, a work by the performance artist group Sins Invalid on disability and prisons. But perhaps the most visible component was the assistive device activity, which occurred in the broader context of the week’s discussions of awareness, assumptions, and advocacy. “
As someone who uses multiple assistive devices every day on our rural campus terrain, I was gratified by the thoughtful consideration and participation of so many of our community members,” says Brenda. “All who participated submitted responses addressing their experience, and we held a roundtable discussion to further frame their participation in the larger context of inclusion and discrimination.”
“I understood that being in the wheelchair all day would be a physical challenge,” says senior Rainbow Stakiwicz, one of 40 participants on campus and at the graduate center who adopted an assistive device for the day. “What I wasn’t expecting was how emotional it would be. I felt detached, tired, strange, and far away from everything. But while I think I learned a lot, and gained a new perspective and way of seeing, I would never presume to know what life is like for a disabled person.”
“Who knew that such a little two-inch square of black patch could undermine my whole sense of self?” says politics professor Lynette Rummel, who chose visual impairment for her disability. Others approximated hearing impairment with earplugs. “The lessons learned will remain with me for a lifetime, of that I am sure.”
Additionally, senior staff, members of the Standing Building Committee, and the event committee held a lunch discussion on curricular initiatives on campus that cross disciplines, as well as on crafting a plan for ADA compliance and accessibility. An ad hoc committee has been designated to complete an accessibility audit of the campus this year, and has been hard at work.
“We have been using an ADA checklist to guide us as we methodically assess each building: clipboards, tape measures, carpenter’s level, door pressure gauge, and cameras in hand,” says Catherine. “By the end of the spring term we will have a report to the community— then the hard work of prioritizing needs will begin.”
“The expansive and collaborative nature of this event, and the thoughtful responses from community members, is indicative of our shared commitment to disability advocacy and activism in the Marlboro community,” says Brenda.