Students bring accessibility to forefront in organizing disability studies conference

A scholar of linguistic anthropology and the anthropology of disability, UChicago graduate student Sharon Seegers conducts research on sign language interpreters in Hanoi. Her work focuses on the ways interpreters are dependent on deaf people and what it means to value interpreters’ dependence.

Seegers appreciated the opportunity to present her disability-focused research at a recent UChicago conference focused on disability studies. The Chicago Disabilities Studies Conference was conducted in an environment designed to accommodate attendees with disabilities.

“A lot of the scholars who did present are students with disabilities and also disability scholars,” said Seegers of the April 20-21 event, which highlighted research from undergraduate and graduate students and faculty from across the country. “It was a great opportunity for disabled scholars to present their work in an accessible environment.”

A dyslexic student, Seegers was one of the UChicago students who helped plan and organize this year’s conference, which offered attendees with disabilities resources including American sign language interpreters, CART services, large-print materials and access copies. This was the fourth annual conference, which was held at the University of Chicago and the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Stephanie Ban, a fourth-year student at UChicago, presented her BA thesis, which focuses on how three Chicago-area universities addressed the issue of wheelchair accessibility prior to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. She was impressed by the wide variety of speakers and topics at the event.

“Whatever your interest was in disability studies, someone at the conference was speaking on that exact topic,” said Ban, who added it “served to highlight that disability is a form of diversity that should be embraced more widely across campus.”

Matthew Borus, a graduate student in the School of Social Service Administration and the Department of Sociology, participated in a panel on disability organizing and activism. His research focuses on the significant role of the Disability Rag, a print periodical in the 1980s that gained wide circulation and national focus, in the disability rights movement.

“This was primarily an academic conference engaging multiple disciplines,” Borus said, “and it also modeled accessibility practices that can be a lot more common.”

Student organizers hope the conference will return to UChicago in future years and will help increase the visibility of disability studies.