DREAM: Raising Awareness for Disabilities at Andover

Randy Pierce climbed all 48 peaks of the White Mountains in New Hampshire twice in two years. He is the first blind hiker to complete this foreboding task and will speak at Andover in January in a talk hosted by the Disability Rights, Education, Activism and Mentoring (DREAM) club.

DREAM, a student-run organization created last spring, seeks to raise awareness about mental and physical disabilities at Andover by inviting speakers such as Pierce. The club aims to eliminate negative connotations surrounding the word “disability” on campus, said Carrie Ingerman ’15, President of DREAM.

Ingerman founded the organization last spring, in reaction to the lack of ableism discussions in the midst of pervasive campus conversations about forms of identity such as race and gender.

“I saw a need on campus for awareness about disabilities and ableism. ‘Out of the Blue’ had disabilities as a section, but we hadn’t talked about [them], so what I was hoping to do was bring awareness and discussion around the issue,” said Ingerman in an interview with The Phillipian.

“Students, in general, don’t understand what disabilities are, especially learning disabilities. [They] think it’s unfair that another student gets extra time, or they think, ‘They’re stupid.’ There’s a negative connotation with disabilities,” she continued.

As an organization, DREAM hopes to debunk these stereotypes through events such as No Shame in the Name (NSITN), a week-long celebration of mental and physical disabilities. Last May’s NSITN featured various events to promote discussion of ableism.

“We share stories from individuals with disabilities. We show films that either are about the person with a disability or feature a person with disability. We also try to explain able bodied privilege as well as neurotic privilege,” wrote Ingerman in an email to The Phillipian.

The organization is currently focusing on reforming school policies that assist students whose students whose disabilities require certain accommodations, such as extended time on examinations. While the policies attempt to guarantee equal treatment and protection of disabled students, she feels that they are problematic because teachers often lack the education necessary to properly abide by them. She hopes that her endeavors through DREAM will mobilize teachers to be more active in creating a supportive community.

“Teachers either give too much time or too little time, making scheduling extended time or other time accommodations more difficult. I’ve had a few students who have dyslexia tell me that teachers, in the middle of class, will say, ‘Oops! Sorry, I had a dyslexic moment.’ Those types of comments are extremely offensive and hurtful. By raising awareness, I hope to stop that behavior and create a better support and a better community for students with disabilities,” said Ingerman.

“It doesn’t matter how much money you have or what religion you are, you can have a disability. I think it’s really important that we celebrate it as a form of identity, especially since we are a community that values diversity,” she continued.

During its weekly club meetings, DREAM holds discussions on topics including building accessibility and disability pride.

“For a meeting about companies [that sell assistive devices], we hosted James Tilghman ’89, whose company, Granny Jo Products, sells additive devices that cater to individuals with physical disabilities,” said Ingerman.

Pierce will be a part of the upcoming NSITN celebration. His non-profit organization, 2020 Vision Quest, serves to inspire others to overcome adversity, educate communities about blindness and raise money for the New Hampshire Association for the Blind and Guiding Eyes for the Blind, two charities that support visually impaired individuals.

Ingerman will also present her CAMD Scholar paper, entitled “Educational Rights of Students with Disabilities: An Analysis of the Past, Present and Future of Overcoming Ableism in Independent New England Boarding Schools,” during this January’s NSITN. DREAM will host additional events such as an ice cream social and a movie showing to gather allies of those with disabilities in a relaxed and comfortable setting to discuss the issue and how to go about solving it.

“I want attention on this issue. I want people to be aware. I want people to start talking about it. We are young, healthy adolescents now, but many people end up having a disability by the end of their lives. For individuals who have a disability earlier in their lives, we should support them, just as we would want to be supported when we’re old and need help in ways that we don’t currently know,” said Ingerman.