University of California Berkley, to launch disability research initiative

“BERKELEY — The University of California, Berkeley — viewed by many as the birthplace of the disability rights movement — today (May 11) announced plans for a sweeping new research initiative that will make the university a worldwide leader in disability studies.

UC Berkeley will create two new faculty positions, including an endowed faculty chair funded by a gift from Colleen and Robert D. Haas, to galvanize and lead the multidisciplinary initiative. Ten faculty members from eight campus units will collaborate on research related to disability, with topics including how people define and respond to disability and the critical areas of technology, education and employment.

“It’s meaningful that this is happening here at Berkeley,” said Susan Schweik, a UC Berkeley professor of English and associate dean of arts and humanities, who has carried the torch for disability studies on campus for several decades. “Disability studies is a young field, an emerging field, but we were one of the first in the mix.”

The research effort will be housed in the Haas Diversity Research Center, which has broadened its programs and mandate as part of the UC Berkeley Initiative for Equity, Inclusion and Diversity launched in 2010.

“The only way to address disability issues is holistically,” said Michael Dear, professor of city and regional planning in the College of Environmental Design and co-director of the research initiative along with Schweik. Dear said that cross-disciplinary research is a hallmark of the research initiative, which also will emphasize collaborations between UC Berkeley and community leaders in the Bay Area.

“The disability rights movement was born in Berkeley and has flourished here,” said Gibor Basri, vice chancellor for the Division of Equity and Inclusion. “It’s fitting that this campus should continue to advance disability research that benefits the world.”

UC Berkeley’s involvement in disability rights — in both activist and academic realms — is longstanding. In the 1960s, Ed Roberts — who became a pioneering disability rights activist — was the first student with significant disabilities to attend UC Berkeley. Using a wheelchair after a childhood bout with polio that left him paralyzed from the neck down, Roberts and other students with disabilities formed a group to advocate for curb cuts and other means of making the campus more accessible. They pressed for services, such as personal attendants, to enable students with disabilities to live independently while attending school.

Roberts went on to form and lead the groundbreaking Center for Independent Living and to be a national advocate for disability rights. The Ed Roberts Campus, a cutting-edge facility in South Berkeley that houses nonprofits and service agencies for people with disabilities, opened in April 2011.

English professor Georgina Kleege, part of the faculty team launching UC Berkeley’s disability research cluster, said the campus’s effort will honor “the pioneering thinkers and activists who came together on this campus and perpetuate their leadership.”

Kleege, who is blind, also noted the significance of including disability studies as a core program of the Haas Diversity Research Center. “Disability issues intersect with multiple areas of research at the heart of the center’s work, including health, education and economics, as well as race, class, gender and sexual orientation,” she said.

“People think disability happens to an individual or is a medical matter. They don’t see it as something akin to culture or as something that shapes an individual’s identity in any way but a negative way,” Kleege continued. “Just to have disability and diversity in the same sentence is exciting and a big move forward.”

Approximately 12 percent of the non-institutionalized U.S. population — some 36 million people — has a disability, according to American Community Survey estimates in 2008. UC Berkeley researchers say that figure is expected to grow as the baby boomer population ages, as “non-visible” disabilities such as learning disabilities are recognized, and as poverty continues to undermine public health.

“Everybody at some point in their lives becomes disabled,” said Dear. “Being disabled adds another level of marginalization to people who might already be marginalized.”

Robert D. Haas praised UC Berkeley for asserting a leadership role in advancing the study of disability. “People with disabilities deserve the same opportunities as everyone else to contribute to their communities and society,” Haas said. “I am excited to see that Berkeley now will be a place where professors and students can explore practical and policy solutions for ensuring that people with disabilities are able to live rewarding and successful lives.”

Schweik called it “breathtaking” that Haas, who graduated from UC Berkeley in 1964, and his wife, Colleen, saw the importance of disability studies — especially during an economic downturn when, she said, “disabled people often lose” due to funding cuts and shifting priorities. The Haases established a faculty chair in disability studies — one of the few of its kind in the nation — in 2010 just after the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund awarded the campus a $16 million grant for the Initiative for Equity, Inclusion and Diversity. Part of the grant went to support five endowed chairs in the Haas Diversity Research Center.

UC Berkeley’s history as a leader in disability issues also includes the launch of the disability studies minor that emerged in 2002. At that time, 43 professors, led by College of Letters & Science (L&S) and College of Environmental Design (CED) faculty, worked together to design new undergraduate courses. In addition to L&S and CED, other departments involved with the new research cluster include the UC Berkeley School of Law, College of Engineering, Goldman School of Public Policy, School of Information, Graduate School of Education, and School of Public Health.

Some 30 universities nationwide offer disability studies, with only a few — including the University of Illinois and Ohio State University — offering graduate programs.

The Haas Diversity Research Center, formerly called the Berkeley Diversity Research Institute, was launched by Chancellor Robert Birgeneau in 2006 and received a significant boost from the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund four years later. In addition to disability, the center investigates critical issues related to race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and socioeconomics in California and nationwide.”

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Human exoskeletons give hope to walk again

Science meets helping people with disabilities- two of my passions combined!

“Eythor Bender of Berkeley Bionics brings onstage two amazing exoskeletons, HULC and eLEGS — robotic add-ons that could one day allow a human to carry 200 pounds without tiring, or allow a wheelchair user to stand and walk. It’s a powerful onstage demo, with implications for human potential of all kinds.”

Moment by Moment

“Moment By Moment ” is a film by Emmy winning film maker Dorothy Fadiman. It is the documentary of Molly Hale, who suffered a spinal cord injury in an automobile rollover, and after being told there was no hope for movement below her shoulders, proceeded to rehabilitate herself and continues to recover. “Moment By Moment” is Molly’s story, a story about disabilities, health and healing, attitude, choice and intention, sex, intimacy, and relationships.

This film is appropriate viewing for anyone with or without a disability, their family, friends and extended community. We envision getting this into the hands of physicians and rehab specialists, and anyone who serves or cares about people who are aging or who has a disability. Your support in getting out the word is appreciated.”

As taken from the website

Here is the movie:

I didn’t want to write my own review on the film, as I felt it is inappropriate of me judge someone so incredible, someone who deserves so much respect. In any case, I would only have positive things to say anyway. I don’t think my opinion matters, when the message from this film is so strong.

Cancer Victim Terry Fox on His Cross Canada Run

The Butterfly Circus

This is an exceptional short movie. Everybody has a talent. Disabilities don’t mean limitations.

Extraordinary people: The Artist with no eyes, Esref Armagan

Someday, I want to own an original painting by him…

Extraordinary People: The Rainman Twins

Keeping your voice

My UCCSU Disability Officer Report for 2010/2011

UCCSU disability officer report

Full version of article for AHEAD Newsletter

As a student with a disability, I felt passionate about this issue, and my previous experiences in UCC made me feel confident and determined to take on the challenge of the job of SU Disability Officer. Going into the job in October, even with the limited amount of time, I had certain aspirations for my time in this position, some of which have already been completed and others which have yet to follow. It is important to stress the fact that this is the first year of the job of the disability officer, so in a way these 8 months are a testing ground for what could be done. This is a reason why this beginning is very important, creating a baseline for the type and amount of work that should be done, for future officers to follow, and expand upon.

The first task that I was faced with was to lead a small delegation from UCC to the AHEAD Kilmainham event in November of last year. This event was the first of its kind, a discussion forum to give an opportunity to students with disabilities to meet and interact. I can safely say that the event was a huge success and of great benefit to both the organisers, and the students involved. It was spread over two days and consisted of two parts: an introductory meeting and dinner with some prominent Irish figures who have had some kind of experiences dealing with people with disabilities in the workplace; and the second part consisted of a world cafe forum, which helped bring everyone together and was the fertile ground for discussion of the problems students with disabilities face in the universities and everyday life. This type of discussion was very beneficial to all students, because not only were they able to take ideas from the other institutions and try implement them in their own and improve, but also the students from the more fortunate institutions which already have support structures for disabilities, were able to compare and better appreciate what they already have.

In this day and age to make a significant difference about a certain issue, you have to raise awareness about it. It is safe to assume that most people, especially in higher education, aren’t malicious by nature and don’t go out of their way to make life difficult for their colleagues with disabilities. However people don’t realize that they might be already doing this subconsciously, when they are not aware of the problems and difficulties that students with disabilities face. Disability Awareness Week was one of the major projects I was looking to start at the beginning of my term. Because of the nature of how universities work, I felt that in order to get equality for those with disabilities, it is important to target, those students without disabilities and raise their awareness about these particular issues. Disability Awareness Week, which took place on 31st Jan- 3rd March was mostly centred on raising awareness about physical disabilities. Three major events took place, with several others happening around those. Perhaps the most successful of those were the wheelchair basketball game between a combined UCC Demons and Neptunes (two otherwise rivalling teams) and an Irish Wheelchair Association team, the 24hour wheelchair challenge, and Irish Guide Dogs For The Blind information stand. The 24 hour Wheelchair challenge was carried about by 5 students, some of which in positions of authority in the Students Union, and raised over 200 euro for the Irish Wheelchair Association, as well as a lot more awareness between the students on campus. Those who participated in the challenge will undoubtedly remember this difficult experience for a long time.

Although Disability Awareness Week 2011 is now over, my time as UCCSU disability officer is not, and I look forward to organising more events before the end of the academic year, one of which will be an AHEAD meeting at the end of March, held in UCC.