The formal disability world

This entry originally appeared on my disability blog, I hate stairs.

When I look at my life in terms of disability, I see two distinct worlds. I see the formal disability world and the informal disability world. The formal disability world consists largely of my participation in an on-campus group called United Students. Other activities in the formal disability world might include participation in any events sponsored by the Muscular Dystrophy Association (spare me the criticisms for now). The informal disability world consists of pretty much everything else that I do that is affected by my disability. Obviously, this could be anything. I use this blog to cover both worlds but, as of late, there hasn’t been a lot of activity in the formal disability world. Well, that will be changing tomorrow.

The student government elections are upon us. For United Students, it will be a chance to convince the incoming president to consider adding a “Students with Disabilities Affairs” position to his or her cabinet. Long ago, in a galaxy far away (2004), I was co-director of that position. I was finishing up my freshman year, when one of the candidates left a crowd of potential voters to come and talk to me as I was enjoying the sunny day. I decided to seize the opportunity to ask about a few disability issues. He responded well. If he won the election, he wanted me to apply for a cabinet position. He won. During my interview for the position, I almost lost it emotionally while explaining that a big reason for my decision to apply for the cabinet position was because of the presidential hopeful’s willingness to walk away from a large crowd just so he could talk to me. In hindsight, it seems rather cheesy. But I was shy and inexperienced, and it was scary. All I knew is that I wanted to make a difference. Mississippi State University was already the most disability-friendly university in the state and one of the best in the nation. But I knew of several issues, and I had ideas for how to fix them.

After my year on the cabinet, the Disability Support Services Coordinator asked me to join a student organization that was going to discuss and act on disability-related issues. I asked him how many members there were. “One. You,” he replied. The organization known as United Students had been around for a while, but had been dormant for a few years. Over the summer before my junior year, United Students grew to a size of about 10 members. We continued to operate in cooperation with the Student Association until they downsized and the cabinet, practically eliminating the Students with Disabilities Affairs position. Being a former member of the SA Cabinet, I remember seeing pictures hanging in our office of cabinets past. In most of the pictures, I could tell which student was the director of Students with Disabilities Affairs. Usually, it was the student off to the side in the wheelchair. The person in that position through the years had likely helped to make the University the very accessible place that it is today. The last thing we needed to do, was eliminate that position.

So, United Students scheduled a meeting with the Student Association President. As it turns out, the Students with Disabilities Affairs position was combined with the Student Health position to form a new position called Student Health and Wellness. This just didn’t go over well with us. We didn’t want the voice of students with disabilities in the Student Association to be heard under the banner of health and wellness. I don’t have to tell my fellow disability bloggers that having a disability is much more than the impairments themselves. No matter what differing impairments we might have, we find common ground in our way of life.

Over the next few years, we would gain the position back and then lose the position again. That brings us up to the present. The current administration decided that it would be best to once again form Student Health and Wellness, at the expense of a separate disability-related position. So once again, we are going to press the new incoming administration to bring it back. And this time we are kicking it up a notch. Fortunately, my brother is the opinion editor at the student newspaper, The Reflector. He is going to be running a letter to the editor that I wrote, which attempts to explain why, in many situations really, the medical aspect of having a disability should not overshadow the other aspects. The purpose of the letter is to explain why the position should be reinstated.

Once the letter runs tomorrow, I should be able to post it here as long as I provide a link to the newspaper’s website (I wouldn’t want to upset the Opinion Editor a.k.a. Determiner of Truth).

I’ve been a bit long-winded this morning. This is the first post I’ve written completely with voice recognition. I’m pleasantly surprised. I may find out that I have a lot more to say now that typing is not an obstacle.