Delta Alpha Pi Panel: A Conversation About Disability

Point Loma Nazarene University’s Delta Alpha Pi Honor Society (DAPi) held a panel discussion on April 16 from 6-8 p.m. in Colt Hall. This discussion, noted as DAPi’s final event of the semester, tackled the topic of the lived experiences of those with disabilities. 

The event was led by three panelists: Family Resource Specialist Linda Burritt, UCSD social work masters student Ana Disser, and Point Loma Alumni Bradley Clary. Every panelist had experiences with their own disability and/or was related to someone with a disability. The panel touched on a variety of disability-centered topics including disability stigma, the importance of educating non-disabled people, ableism, discrimination of disabled people and “invisible” versus “visible” disabilities.

Afterward, DAPi leaders posed a few questions to each panelist individually. 

According to Nicole Perry, the event organizer and a fourth-year accounting major, having a panel that educates PLNU students about disabilities cultivates an environment of understanding and awareness around the topic. She said that students are not typically aware of disabilities in their everyday lives, and this contributes to a lack of inclusive thinking. 

“Our panel provides a space for people to learn about what life with a disability may look like, and it gives students a space to share their experiences,” Perry said. “It also serves as a reminder that they are not alone and that there is a community here to provide support.” 

Perry said that the panel’s purpose was to remind students that they are allowed to ask for help and that they have the freedom to show up as their most authentic selves. It was also meant to cultivate a more inclusive way of thinking about disabilities as well as emphasize the idea that a college campus should be accessible to every type of student. She said that the panel was an opportunity to convey to students that God made everyone uniquely as valuable individuals. 

“More awareness helps to promote equality and equity,” Perry said. “It also gives others the ability to advocate for the disability community, as they may become more aware of needs and accessibility issues. It also helps to assure that any campus events will be planned with accessibility in mind.” 

Perry said she has noticed a handful of negative student reactions when they notice the word “disability” on their event posters, but she believes it is a result of a lack of student awareness as well as proper education on the topic of disabilities. 

“I hope that this panel will inspire others to share their stories and experiences. I would love for this to become a topic that others can talk openly about and continue to fight the negative stigma,” Perry said. 

Burritt said she chose to speak at this event because she wanted to show that there are opportunities for every student to receive an education. She also wanted to remind students that they should feel safe enough to ask for what they need so that they can work in an environment that motivates them to perform at their best. She hopes to show students that they can have success regardless of their abilities. 

“It’s important to talk about disabilities because, if we do not include people with disabilities in the workplace, we are not going to have the best people out there to do the jobs,” Burritt said. 

According to Burritt, it is important to have conversations about disabilities because it is necessary to have diversity in the workplace. There needs to be people of all types of abilities creating things, teaching, helping others and being a part of society as a whole. 

“To be a witness to spaces that are not completely inclusive is challenging. If society doesn’t take those next steps, it is not okay,” Burritt said. 

Burritt emphasized the importance of disabled individuals being their own advocates as well as having relationships with other self-advocates who are loving and understanding of their struggles. She hopes that people with disabilities will be comfortable in their identity and not worry about the opinions of those who look at them differently. 

Clary said that disability is a big stigma, and people tend to view those with disabilities as being lower than them. He believes that institutions need to do a better job of advocating and including people with disabilities in spaces, and asking them what they need and how they can be supported rather than forcing them to take care of themselves. He stressed the importance of providing people with disabilities with the tools and resources they need to succeed. 

“Even though you have a disability, it should not be looked down upon,” Clary said. “It should be something that everyone acknowledges is part of you, and people should get to know you.” 

Disser said it is important for non-disabled students to learn from those who have experiences with disability because in addition to added knowledge and empathy, students can learn how to advocate for others. 

“I think that there is social isolation and a lack of inclusion in non-disabled spaces,” Disser said. “There is a lack of understanding from the wider world about what people need and the barriers that are actively being placed in front of disabled people to prevent them from accessing spaces. A lot of the time, people don’t understand that it’s not just because someone can’t do something, it is that society has not created access for them.” 

According to Disser, there should be more non-disabled people who advocate for the disabled community rather than just assuming what they need. 
“Listening to disabled people when they say what they need is something that people don’t do. People can make a big difference just by asking disabled people first what they need,” Disser said.