UC Connect public lecture: Ableism – Same Struggle, Different Differences

“A community that excludes even one member is no community at all.” In this upcoming free UC Connect public lecture, Ableism – Same Struggle, Different Differences, visiting American activists, authors and compelling storytellers Janice Fialka and Rich Feldman will share what it takes to create a journey of inclusion and community for all. Their visit is being hosted by the University of Canterbury (UC) Community Engagement Hub and is supported by a generous grant from the United States Embassy in New Zealand.

We live in a time when there is a deep longing to belong and a troubling fear of ‘the other’, according to Janice Fialka and Rich Feldman, activists and parents of an adult son with intellectual disabilities (ID). They learned early in their parenting journey what it meant for their child to be seen as ‘the other’ – to not belong, to be excluded.

Drawing from decades of their movement activism, the couple applied critical lessons and practices to confront the ableism they saw happening to their son, Micah Fialka Feldman. They expanded their political framework to Disability Justice, asking: ‘Who’s not at the table? What does it mean to be human?’ What will it take, in the words of author Audre Lorde, to believe “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”

Micah’s story is a bold example of what is possible. Born in 1984 with an intellectual disability his life at that time was destined to be limited to special education with few opportunities for a fulfilling life. A defining moment occurred midway through first grade [when children are age 6-7], when Micah said to his parents, “I don’t want to be in special education. I want to go in the same door with my friends.”

With fierce advocacy of many and Micah’s staunch belief that he belonged, he became the first student with an intellectual disability to be fully included in K-12 classes*. Later he joined the new wave of students with ID attending college. When denied access to dorm living, he sued the university in Federal Court and won. In 2014 he was appointed by US President Barack Obama to be on the Presidential Committee for People with Disabilities. Currently he is a Teaching Assistant in the School of Education at Syracuse University and featured in the documentary film, Intelligent Lives. The family received the Family Voices Lifetime Achievement Award in Washington DC for their work in advocacy and disability.

*K-12 is a term used in education and educational technology in the United States, and refers to school grades prior to college, which are kindergarten (K) and the 1st through the 12th grade (1-12).

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