Stephen Hawking, famous researcher and cosmologist, passed away on March 14, 2018. He was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) at the age of 21 and was given two years to live, but surpassed this limit by 53 years. His death has touched the hearts of many across the world, and he will be remembered not only as a scientist but also as a reminder to the world that living with an impairment does not mean being incapable of achievement.
Hawking is an inspiration for many and pushed past believed limitations for the disabled community. He once said, “My advice to other disabled people would be, concentrate on things your disability doesn’t prevent you doing well, and don’t regret the things it interferes with. Don’t be disabled in spirit as well as physically.”
Although Hawking is no longer with us, it is important that we take these words and use them to combat ableism within our community and in the world. Although the issues surrounding how society views disability may not seem pressing, especially in the news today, they have been and continue to be important. Stereotypes such as viewing disabled people as living inferior or fantastical lives and being unable to fit in society are problems that have always existed and need to be addressed.
This week’s All-School Meeting speaker, Haben Girma, was the first deaf-blind graduate of Harvard Law School. Girma explained to us that disabled people do not live a better or worse life, just a different life. She encouraged us to advocate for accessibility and equal treatment of disabled people in society. In taking the words of Hawking and Girma to heart, we can start advocating within our school community. Right now, the Andover campus and community does not prioritize addressing ableism. And our campus is not accessible!
Our campus does not have wheelchair ramps in every academic building, for example Samuel Phillips Hall and Graves Hall. In addition, dorms that do not have elevators make it impossible for some disabled students to live in or visit. Additionally, we do not talk about disability as much as other topics of identity. In the 2017 State of the Academy, 60.15 percent of the respondents chose ability as their answer to the question “Which facet or facets of identity do you think is/are discussed least at Andover?” We should incorporate disability into Empathy, Balance, and Inclusion (EBI) classes, into student-led forums, and invite more speakers like Girma to our campus.
Representation of disabled people also plays an important role in dismantling ableism. One may argue that because Andover is so academically rigorous, students with disabilities would face too many challenges. However, as Girma explained, disabled people find alternative ways of communicating and executing tasks. If the needed resources are made available for disabled people, like for Girma at Harvard, they can thrive at places like Andover. By taking small steps to cultivate inclusive environments, people of all abilities will be able to succeed and excel beyond society’s limitations.
Jimin Kim is a two-year Lower from Irvine, Calif. Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.