The following ethnography is meant to unpack a diversity learning experience found recently on the University of Oklahoma campus. I participated in an empathy dinner for the disabled hosted by Push American, a student initiated philanthropy organization. The theoretical framework from which I am approaching this topic is that of an emerging inclusion theory described by Susan Jones in 1996 which describes a new perspective to consider those with disabilities. Also analyzed is Jones and Marylu McEwen's conceptual model of multiple dimensions of identity in regards to how identity may be shaped by disability. Concerning the actual experience, a summary will include what was learned by being involved in the empathy dinner and how higher education officials may become allies to those in this target group.
In order to lay a proper foundation for the discussion that follows, context should be provided to properly define the nature of disabilities in higher education.
The American Disabilities Act considers a person disabled if they have a significant impairment that interferes with a major life function (1990). Many forget that these impairments may go beyond physical issues like walking or loss of hearing. These problems may even be considered mental health risks like depression or chronic ailment issues such as HIV/AIDS. People with disabilities constitute the nation's largest minority group and the only such group that any person may become a part of at any time. The Invisible Disabilities Advocate reports that about 1 in 10 Americans are living with a severe disability with millions more suffering with some form of a less severe ailment, visible or invisible (1997).
Although the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s began to give a voice to those harboring disabilities in higher education, it was not until the Rehabilitation Act...