Lydia Brown speaks on disability justice

Lydia X. Z. Brown spoke in the McCarthy Center Forum Thursday, Oct. 13, as part of this semester’s Arts and Ideas series.

Brown’s talk, titled “Redesign and Rebuild it: Disability Justice, Radical Access, and the Academy,” was a part of the “Change the Conversation, Change the World” series.

Brown began with a trigger warning, saying that parts of the talk may be “very dark and potentially [cover] traumatizing topics, including discussions of violence.”

Brown stressed equality for diverse disabled people, but came to this point through detailing and exploring the ways in which people think of disability.

They focused on the ways able-bodied people see disabled people and then how they react to those expectations, saying that “the stories that we tell and the way in which we tell them tell us whose minds and whose bodies we believe are desirable.”

Brown spoke extensively on the topic of ableism and urged viewers to look inward before acting outward.

The event ended promptly, since Brown was headed to Boston to receive the Mary Lou Maloney award from the Disability Policy Consortium.

Brown said the award is “given to a person who advances the rights of people with disabilities in Massachusetts through the legislative and regulatory process – in ‘normal people’ language, that means I am receiving this award because I spend a lot of time pissing people off on Beacon Hill.”

50 people gathered in the the Forum to hear Brown speak, including Natalie Chaprazian, a freshman and early education major.

Chaprazian said, “I feel like I’m still a little lost, just because it was a lot to take in in just an hour, but I feel like I know a lot more now than I did when I came in here. … I actually have an anxiety disorder, so I take tests and stuff out of class, and I really wanted to hear what Lydia Brown was going to say because I have friends with disabilities as well.

“You never hear things like this anywhere. You never hear a speaker or a presenter like this even in high school. … You have your Best Buddies programs and things like that, but that’s as far as it gets for disabilities, and I wanted to get a better understanding of them.”

James Cressey, assistant professor of education, said, “if we want to partner with people with disabilities, or better yet, become their allies – if this is the work we want to do then we definitely need to hear voices like Lydia Brown’s.”

One Lesley University student, Janna Drolette, came from Boston to hear Brown’s talk, saying, “I came for my Characteristics of Children with Special Needs class. We have field options to choose from and this is the one I wanted to come to. It sounded really interesting.”

Drolette added, “you have to change the way you think and the way you’ve been taught to think.”

Sophomore Aleksandra Gosz said, “Society has really messed up my views of people and how they should be and how they should fit in a certain box, and yet again, here Lydia is, completely out of that box society has created.”