What does being disabled really mean?

Susan Robinson, TED Talk speaker and CEO of Global Health AspirAction, addressed this question at the latest installment of the College of Health and Human Development Distinguished Alumni Speaker Series on Tuesday night.

“We are so use to labels that we do not usually draw them into question,” Robinson said.

Robinson’s speech, “Dis-labled: You Are Not Who They Say You Are,” spoke about her experience as a legally blind individual and how others perceive those with disabilities.

She said there is nothing intrinsically wrong with classifying people as disabled, but she finds the vernacular of the word "disabled" to be “very curious.”

“If you break down ‘dis-abled,’ it means ‘un-able’ or not capable,” Robinson said. “How is a person incapable of being human?”

Robinson said being disabled never made her feel as though she was truly unable to do anything.

“To accomplish my goals, I just need a different kind of pathway than most everyone else,” she said.

Robinson has noticed four general reactions from people when they discover she is legally blind.

Many people, she said, respond in surprise about all she is able to accomplish while having a visual impairment.

Robinson said people typically put accomplishments in terms of having 20/20 vision, so they have a difficult time understanding how she is able to be successful otherwise.

Another common reaction, she said, is people believing that she is “faking” being blind because she often does not appear to have vision problems.

“This is rooted in [misconception],” Robinson said. “It doesn’t allow for the permission that other possibilities exist.”

She said because she does not fit the image of a blind person, people do not always extend the definition of disabled to her.

“The word disabled covers such a breadth of people,” Robinson said. “It covers people who need 24-hour daily care and also almost half of the working population. It is a very wildly applied term.”

Robinson said she believes people need to look at how they define success and how the current definition of success applies to those with disabilities.

Both those with and without traditional disabilities have “situational strengths,” Robinson said.

She said that success and failure can be measured in numerous ways, and they should not always be viewed in terms of what is “normal.”

“I’m just too stubborn to accept the limitations others have put on me,” Robinson said.

Caley McCormick said she it was “inspiring” to hear Robinson speak because she had “such an interesting life path.”

“It was interesting how she talked about how our generation is more open to diversity,” McCormick (senior-health policy and administration) said. “I think it is really true.”

Maggie Morgan said she appreciated Robinson’s speech since she is interested in learning about disabilities because of her major.

“She included a lot of humor but also provided a lot of helpful information,” Morgan (senior-nutrition) said. “I think a lot people could really relate to that.”

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