Those who have never experienced a physical or mental disability are hard-pressed to understand the unique journey of individuals impacted by such conditions.
Campus Disability Advocates, a newly recognized organization at UT, will be hosting an art show tonight from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. in Market Square, with the hopes of shedding more light on disability.
The CDA was inspired to organize this event, and the other events of "Disability Awareness Week," because of how people with disabilities are often viewed by society.
"The discourse surrounding disability — when it occurs at all — almost always orients itself around the perspective of an able audience: How can thinking about disability inspire them? How (it can) keep them from getting sued (and) how (it can) improve their bottom line," said Hunter McKnight, a founding member for the CDA and senior in linguistics and African studies.
McKnight said that the week's programming is a way to showcase the experiences of students with disabilities.
"This art show, along with the rest of this week's programming, is our way of rejecting this discourse and introducing a new one. This week is about our experiences, our voices and our struggle," he said.
Lindsey Lee, president of the CDA and a junior in math and Spanish, said she hopes this event will shed new light on how the community views disability.
"The reason we are doing this is that we want people to see disability in a creative sort of way," said Lee. "Like the rest of the events of the week, we want people to understand that disability is a really common thing. Twenty percent of Americans have some sort of disability. But people still see it as a foreign, sort of scary, ... thing, and it shouldn't be thought of in that way ... art is one way to kind of express that, to show people's personhood through the art they create," she said.
Lee submitted a piece, saying that a drawing class she took to fulfill a general education requirement during her freshman year was in the back of her mind while planning the event.
"I think that art class had a really big effect on me ... that class is always in the back of my mind ... when we were planning this whole thing I was like, we have to do something art related," Lee said. "I hope (people) look at the pieces and ... start to understand disability isn't a death sentence ... it's just something different."
Allison Gose, vice president of the CDA and junior in history and political science, agreed with Lee.
“We want to show people, through a medium like art which everyone can appreciate and understand, that people with disabilities are not an alien group that able-bodied people need to fear or be uncomfortable around,” Gose said.
Both advocates think this event will unite students with and without disabilities.
“I hope students with disabilities will see that able-bodied people are interested in our culture and want to learn more about it," Gose said. "They need to realize that they are not in a world filled with adversaries. The more people communicate, the more accessible and friendly our world is going to be."
Lee added that "Disability Awareness Week," and the corresponding art show, may help to knit the campus community more tightly together.
"If any students with disabilities at UT feel segregated from the regular population or they don't feel connected to the campus … I hope that changes … I hope they feel like there are lots of other people on this campus that really know and care about disability issues … .” Lee said.