Kicking Off 2022-2023 CaMD Scholar Presentations, Kate McCool ’23 Illuminates Social Justice Issues in American Disability Rights Movement

Kate McCool ’23 delivered her 2022-2023 Community and Multicultural Development (CaMD) Scholar presentation, “Challenging ADA-Era Complacency: Legislation at the Intersections of Disability, Race, and Poverty” on November 9 in Kemper Auditorium. She explored the compounding effects of economic injustice, racism, and ableism in the United States. 

At the beginning of the presentation, McCool cited her brother, who is disabled, as her inspiration for pursuing this topic. McCool’s experiences witnessing her family navigate government bureaucracies as they tried to support her brother motivated her to research how government policy impacts disabled individuals.

“I would notice the pages and pages of government forms that my parents would have to help my brother navigate through and the hours that they would spend on hold waiting for a call back from a government office. This challenged my understanding of the American legislative system. It is not an impartial and omnipotent force as it is made out to be; in fact, it is oftentimes clouded by its historical prejudices,” said McCool.

McCool continued, “At the end of the day, this project has just made me feel infinitely closer to my brother. Grasping with these understandings of his identity and disability and his personal experiences of oppression, I feel this project has bridged the three thousand miles that distance us, and I think it has helped me come closer to my goal of someday being able to be the one to protect him.”

In an interview with The Phillipian, McCool spoke about her experience creating the project. She noted that her main goals were relatability and creating a connection between her material and her audience.

“I know that legislation, at times, can seem dense and uninteresting, but I thought it was important to explain the real-life implications of it, and the emotional connection that the audience might have to the material. I also wanted to focus on making my research, and my project, and my presentation broader beyond my own personal experiences… and complicating that by also navigating through the intersection between disability and race” said McCool.

According to audience members, McCool’s hard work certainly paid off. For attendee Kai Mafunga ’26, McCool’s discussion of the correlation between racism and ableism resonated strongly with her.

“I already knew that people who are minorities, specifically African American and Latinx, encounter more difficulty socio-economically per capita, as compared to people who are white. But I didn’t think about it [from the perspective of] disability, and how [McCool connected the ideas] was really enlightening. [It] really made me think about the struggles that people with disabilities face and then the struggles that people who are African American or Latinx with a disability, how that can be even worse or exacerbated,” said Mafunga.

Throughout the summer, Nick Liu ’23, a fellow 2022-2023 CaMD Scholar, and McCool supported one another as they worked on their projects. To Liu, McCool’s presentation felt like a final culmination of all the effort put into their research.

“Last spring, when [Kate, John, Kianna, and I] were Uppers, we found out that we were the four scholars selected from the applicant pool to be the 2023 CaMD scholars…. So we became each other’s best support system. By that I mean we just became a really, really great group of people. We all just pressed on together. So it just feels so rewarding now, as Kate told me at the end of the presentation, that we’re finally seeing all this paying off…. And I’m super proud of her and looking forward to everything else that we’re gonna do,” said Liu.

McCool’s advisor, Maureen Ferris, shared a similar perspective. Over the course of the project, Ferris had met up with McCool at multiple different points to provide support, feedback, and resources. Ferris hopes McCool’s work will support increased awareness of the American Disabilities Act on campus. 

In her paper, presentation, and interview, McCool encouraged students to get involved with disability rights activism. Reflecting on how the project helped shape her beliefs, McCool shared that through her research she discovered the impact that advocacy can have on legislation.

“Even though there is work to be done, this, once again, should not be disheartening… because we know that advocacy has yielded such monumental results before. And so this isn’t a burdensome task, or a task that we shouldn’t be afraid of. It should be inspiring,” said McCool.