by Matthew Wangeman, Disability Studies Instructor

Matthew WangemanOctober is Disability Awareness Month, and Northern Arizona University is celebrating the true diversity that disability brings to the world.

As an individual with cerebral palsy, I have been very fortunate in my life. I went to the University of California at Berkeley where I somehow earned a few degrees. I have an 11-year-old son who is amazing, mainly thanks to his mother (excuse my dry sense of humor). In many ways, I am living an ordinary or typical life.

However, sadly, it is extremely rare for a person with a significant disability to have the opportunity to be able to live independently, not to mention teach at the university level. The question I pose, along with other disability advocates, is why should it be rare for people with disabilities to have the same opportunities in life as other people? What is it about disability that creates this separation in most people’s minds?

I am often asked how did I overcome my disability, and I usually respond by saying that I haven’t overcome my disability, because my disability is just a part of who I am. The word “overcome” implies disability is a bad thing, which I and other advocates totally reject. To us, disability just means different or atypical. We argue it is our society that puts the negative connotation on disability as something that must be “overcome.”

I rely on the great support of the people in my life to allow me to have my dream job. I love teaching my students about the often unseen world of disability, and I have really enjoyed working with the many different campus groups at NAU.

I invite you to join the NAU community for Disability Awareness Week to experience the rich diversity that disability has to offer and to start to imagine a truly inclusive society for all people. I hope it will broaden everyone’s perspective on disability.

Without people with disabilities this world would be a very boring place to live.