Discussions have swirled at Gordon in recent years about perception, art, disability politics, and their impact on the disability community—and from February 17 through 21, those vital, intriguing issues were the focus of a symposium-style week of events at Gordon called Beyond Disabilities. It culminated with a talk by Temple Grandin, Ph.D., an acclaimed speaker, writer and activist on the topic of autism.
The goal of Beyond Disabilities was to cultivate an elevated discussion about disabilities, confronting preconceptions and assumptions so communities can become more hospitable to individuals with disabilities. Events included film screenings, lectures, panel discussions, interviews and an opportunity to meet Grandin at a post-lecture reception.
When Leah Serao ’14 (a double major in linguistics and elementary education with a concentration in special education) contacted Temple Grandin about creating Beyond Disabilities week, Leah tapped into her career goal of working in language development for non-verbal autistic children. In addition to her Gordon coursework, Leah works with a nonprofit agency linked with the Accessible Icon project—a collaborative effort to replace the ubiquitous, stolid symbol of handicap access with a more dynamic image. That project began with an artist-to-artist introduction in Gordon's Barrington Gallery back in 2009, and has swelled into a new International Symbol of Access and an exhibit in New York City's Museum of Modern Art. "Leah organized a series of events to help everyone at Gordon and neighboring institutions reimagine the role of people with disabilities in education, society, and beyond," said Brian Glenney (philosophy), one of the designers of the new icon, and a faculty mentor to Serao.
Once Grandin responded to Leah with encouragement and expressed willingness to participate, Leah worked with other Gordon students to put together a schedule that would cover all aspects of disabilities, including physical, mental and invisible (learning) disabilities.
Grandin, who was born in Boston, was diagnosed with autism in 1950 and was the subject of a 2010 Emmy-winning HBO movie about her life. She is an inspiration to many in the disabilities community. She is a professor of animal science at Colorado State University.
This themed week was preceded at Gordon in 2013 by Beyond Colorblind, which focused on racial reconciliation. “The annual ‘Beyond’ week tradition is created to encourage students to think deeper on an issue that is generally viewed on a surface level, or not talked about in great detail,” says Leah.
Gordon College is a multi-denominational Christian college of the liberal arts and sciences on Boston’s North Shore, offering majors in 36 fields with graduate programs in education and music education. Gordon is nationally recognized for excellence in academics and in character building, and ranks as one of the nation’s top Christian colleges. www.gordon.edu