I was one week away from graduating from college when the accident happened. I fell thirty feet on a sunny, Saturday morning and shattered the lower half of my body. I went from being an able-bodied young woman to a wheel chair user with chronic pain in a matter of minutes. Though I would learn to walk again, the physical ramifications of the accident, coupled with the views and values society placed on my changed body, continue to impact me to this day. I will be returning to academia in the fall to pursue a PhD focusing on disability studies, which is an interest I did not have prior to the accident.
As a woman who identifies as disabled, it is easy to see why society as a whole needs disability studies. Here we are, with the Americans with Disabilities Act decades old, and yet so much of the country is not accessible. Disability identity is ignored and taken for granted. The patterns of oppression linked to disability only grow deeper when poverty is added to the equation. These factors are fairly obvious and I do not deny their importance.
However, maybe disability studies would have more traction at our universities and in our world if it took a deeper look at how we all benefit from disability studies exposure on an individual level. Before my accident, I had never contemplated the interactions between the medical, societal, and corporal. I had never considered my identity as a working person until disability was tossed into the mix. I had not considered how much of my sense of self was wrapped in ableist ideals until those were taken away. If I had been encouraged to spend as much time thinking about disability as I had gender, race, or global politics, perhaps the transition would have been easier.
In between working and home, I volunteer on the in-patient physical rehabilitation floor at my local hospital. I meet with people who experienced sudden traumas or illnesses similar to mine. These individuals request to meet with a peer mentor, like myself, because they are scared and confused about the lives they will lead when they exit the hospital. I tell them my story, give them book recommendations, describe how to fix up their homes, and assure them that life can be good and different at the same time. During these conversations, I think about how critically we all need disability studies before we get to these transitions. As the field of disability studies continues to grow and broaden, let us not forget these individuals who need – and will need – our scholarship to understand the new worlds they live in.