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Students Discuss Breaking Down Social, Physical Barriers for Disabled Students

As part of Love Your Body Week, students from across campus gathered at a roundtable discussion to talk about living with a disability and Boston College’s accessibility and accommodations. The conversation revolved around creating an environment free of physical and social barriers for those with disabilities.

Megan Kelly, a student staff member with the Women’s Center and CSOM ’17, introduced Amy Boesky, an English professor and a director of the medical humanities minor.

Boesky began by talking about Rick Guidotti, who began his career as a fashion photographer but soon became frustrated with the homogeneity of his subjects. Guidotti realized he was photographing the same image and the women he was photographing did not look like the women he knew. He began to photograph people with disabilities that are stigmatized in society, like albinism. Upon seeing their gorgeous photographs, those “disabled” were in awe, saying things such as, “I never thought of myself as being beautiful.”

“What does it mean to live in a culture with very specific ideas of perfection?” Boesky asked the students.

Then, the students and faculty present spoke about how catalogs and advertisements bombard their viewers with a narrowly defined image of physical perfection. This narrowly defined image quickly becomes reality.

As Tara Cotumaccio, chief of staff for the Council for Students with Disabilities (CSD) and MCAS ’17, pointed out, disability is often left out of conversations.

“How does media representation of disabled people, or lack thereof, affect body image or your ability to feel confident with yourself?” she asked.

Students discussed their experiences with media representation of disabled people, and they discovered that such exposure is often limited to the “token person in the wheelchair,” which is a limited image of what disability looks like. Emmett Narby, director of outreach for CSD and MCAS ’18, sees such representations as problematic.

“The gap between representation and experience is impossible to represent in fullness,” Narby said.

He explained that every person has a different experience with disability. Claire Chatellier, MCAS ’19, agreed.

“How does media representation of disabled people, or lack thereof, affect body image or your ability to feel confident with yourself?”

—Tara Cotumaccio, chief of staff for the Council for Students with Disabilities and MCAS ’17

“The storyline can’t just be about disability, there is more to a person than their disability,” she said.

Boesky then introduced the idea of visible disability versus invisible disability, saying that in our society visual disabilities are often overpraised while those with invisible disabilities are left feeling invalidated.

Another student contributed her insight to this conundrum, saying that physical disabilities reduce people to their disability, and that unseen disabilities are more difficult for people to understand.

Boesky discussed what it is like to be a college student, specifically a student at BC, with a disability. She said that many students at BC are focused on image, which makes being a disabled student difficult.

“[BC is a] microcosmic world with an emphasis on appearance and homogeneity,” she said.

A college campus, especially one that constantly talks about “Ever to Excel,” promotes efficiency and tangible achievement, Boesky said.

Djanan Kernizan, MCAS ’19, talked about her experience in such a pressurized system.

“I need to do all this stuff all the time,” Kernizan said. “I go to BC. I need to do everything.”

Kalie Paranzino, CSON ’19, brought up the importance of sharing stories in making change, which Boesky agreed was necessary before challenging the room to think about changing representation and making stories more varied.

Narby said that the most difficult obstacle for him to overcome in order to love his body was accepting the fact that there are certain activities he can’t do.

Cotumaccio said she doesn’t let her physical limitations alter her lifestyle.

“My body has been through a lot, but I’m still living my life,” she said.

Boesky, who started at BC in 1993, expressed her surprise at students’ willingness to engage in conversation and overcome the obstacles they face due to their disabilities.

“I cannot imagine having had this discussion when I first came to BC,” she said. “Now we are having so many important discussions at BC.”  

Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor

October 27, 2016