1 Step Closer to the Classroom…

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It has been a privilege to be a part Dr. Bialka’s Introduction to Disability Studies class. Dr. Bialka does such a great job at incorporating what she teaches about UDL in her own lessons, which is what made every lesson super comprehensive. I have taken away so much from this class, even skills that could be useful in everyday interaction in and outside the classroom. Not only have I learned a bunch from this class, but it has provided me with the opportunity to work with LEVEL, which has been an integral part of my semester. Overall, I am super glad that I harassed Dr. Bialka into writing me into this class (just kidding, haha!).

Looking back at my initial goals, they have changed quite a bit. Over the course of the semester, I made some edits to my earlier posts; nevertheless, I still remember what I had written previous to the changes. To start, coming into this class earlier in the semester, I had not yet chosen my concentration. It is thanks to Dr. Bialka, and even some of my classmates that I was able to find the subject area for me. Furthermore, my goal in terms of the course material, was that I wanted to “see the world from a disabled person’s lens.” I now know that no matter how educated I am on the topic of disability, I will never know exactly what it is like to be a person with a disability of any kind. However, through the extensive discussions and readings, I have gotten a really good idea of what it may be like. I realized the importance of not accidentally being ableist, especially when sharing your knowledge of a group that you are not part of. I will now be able to keep the conversations we had in this class in the back of my mind when teaching different groups of students!

My understanding of disability, however, has not changed. I still see disability as a uniqueness. Another phrase that I like to now use is, “differently-abled.” I feel like the word “disability” can sometimes come off as a little negative, so I often feel like differently-abled should be the updated term. I hope that one day everyone just sees disability as a unique trait, rather than something that is lacking of a person.

My awareness of disability rhetoric has really taken a toll on how view certain things now. For example, every time I see a post on twitter related to disability, or a poster on facebook related to disability, or in TV shows, I try to connect it with one of the disability rhetorics we learned about. I can definitely say that the realistic rhetoric is not something that I have encountered many times. This makes me think about how far we have to left to go in order to normalize disability and using the realistic rhetoric for all incorporations of disability in anything.

Furthermore, I really found it effective every time one of my classmates did their extensions and added a personal connection the disability topic they were explaining; it helped me realize the realness of what is disability. It was extremely helpful because I am hearing not only about the person affected with the disability but those who are affected by the disability that one may have. I liked how we talked about the feelings of siblings and parents when they live with a disabled person. This is useful because not only could because it offers a different perspective that I might have never considered otherwise but because it could be something a future student of mine could be dealing with.

Moving forward, LEVEL has really helped me with a more substantial understanding of disability, because I did not have many encounters with people with severe disabilities other than my family friend when I was 9. Working with LEVEL has opened up a whole new way of communicating and teaching for me that I did not know about before. Recognizing that every student I worked with learned differently, was eye-opening. I learned about patience, strength, determination and friendship through my work at LEVEL.

Leaving IDS, and delving more into my major of Education, I hope to continue to utilize the skills that I have gained throughout this course in my work and in my future classroom. I want to be able to make every student feel like they belong in this classroom, despite their barriers, because they do. Being considerate of any differences will help all students reach their full potential, and help me become the most effective teacher that I can be. I am thankful for the many lessons I have learned in Introduction to Disability Studies this semester.☻

The Road Within (2004)

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The award winning film, The Road Within is a film directed by Gren Wells in 2014. It won the Champs-Èlysées Film Festival’s Best American Feature award in 2015 among other awards, and also got nominated for multiple other awards. I really liked this film because although it does include some of the disability tropes that we discussed in class, it still managed to send out a positive message about the disabled community. It challenged my thinking in several ways, but opened my mind more than anything. I have watched this film before, but never considered the concept of tropes. Also, I always knew that mental disorders were illnesses but I never considered them as a “disability” per se; Of course that was before my involvement in the IDS course. In stating that, after watching it for the second time, I really saw the experiences of each character and its connection to these tropes in a different light.

The Road Within is a film that focuses on a boy named, Vincent. To give a brief summary, Vincent has Tourette Syndrome and is sent to a behavioral facility by his father. Vincent at this point is still mourning his mother’s recent death. His father, on the other hand, is a candidate for political office and does not want his son to be part of his campaign, which is his father’s reasoning for sending him away to Dr. Mia’s facility. At the behavioral facility, he is roomed with a boy named Alex, who has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). He later meets a girl named, Marie, who is both Anorexic and Bulimic. Vincent, Alex and Marie run away to Santa Cruz in Dr. Mia car after Vincent steals it. Vincent runs away because he wants to deliver his mother’s ashes to the ocean. Throughout their trip, they grow in a way that could not have been possible for them in the facility. Vincent not only, achieves his goal of going to the ocean for his mother, but his Tourette’s improves. Alex’s OCD also improves throughout the course of the trip too. Marie also, not only begins to eat more healthily as well but her and Vincent fall in love. This incident calls for Vincent’s father to apologize for his selfish decisions in the end. Overall, this film did a good job of positively portraying a learning experience like no other. Though I think the message being portrayed in this film is positive one, I can still identify some tropes within the storyline: Tainted/Diseased and Magically Healed.

The most easily identifiable trope was the tainted/diseased trope. This is obvious in that they are put away, in a sense, in this facility that is supposed to help them. Vincent in particular is sent to this facility by his father so that his father could run his political campaign more smoothly–or so he thinks. This mindset alone portrays the trope of tainted/diseased because his father is viewing him as unsuitable for the position of representing him simply because he is disabled. The need to send him away all together is implying that he cant be a ‘normal’ member of society, so he must be locked up. Nevertheless, I liked this representation of this trope because in the end the storyline becomes an anti-trope as Vincent and his friends overcome this idea of being unfit for the world.

Moving forward, I can argue that the Magically Healed is portrayed in this film a bit. I say a bit because I think it is used in an appropriate amount, and I feel like many could even argue that it isn’t even used because it isn’t necessarily used in a negative way. I say this because the Magically Healed trope implies that the disabled character is completely free of his/her disability in the film, which is not the case here. Nevertheless, in this film, all of the main characters improve the ways they deal with their disability through their experience, which falls under the magically healed trope, to me.

Despite the light use of tropes, I feel like the message that this film is trying to send is that facing your fears is more beneficial to you than running away from them–I know this statement can seem a bit ironic since they are literally running away, but in a metaphorical way, they are not. Vincent faces his fear of standing up to his father and proving to him that he is indeed suitable for the world and can achieve his goals (delivering his mother to the ocean), despite his disability. Alex faces his fear of disorganization and uncleanliness by going into the forrest and living in a car for the most part and improving his disorder. Marie faces her fear of overcoming her eating disorder by experiencing and learning from her most scarring health downfall and finding love. And even, Vincent’s father faces his fear of stepping in as the father he’s supposed to be when he is forced to stop campaigning and search for his son. I really enjoyed this story because although it was based on three young people who had disabilities, the plot’s message was something that anyone could relate too–at least thats what I took from it. This film saw their disability as something that they could improve to live with, rather than to get rid of, which is also something I appreciated. Overall, I really thought it was interesting watching it again after being more informed on disability tropes and disability in general.

 

Ability Privilege

 

 

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Has anyone ever come up to you attempting to give you a compliment by asking you “What are you?!” or along the lines of “you have such nice [insert physical characteristic here], are you [insert ethnicity/race here]?”

Me too. (If you haven’t, still keep reading!)

Don’t get me wrong, I love to talk about my ethnic background but sometimes these questions can be worded poorly, making it sound insulting. Surely, the intentions of a person asking questions like these may be innocent, and simply asked out of curiosity without prior knowledge of how to properly propose this question, but not many people realize this and become offended. Admittedly, it does bother me a bit as well because it makes me think that by asking this exact question it reveals that people already have a preconceived assumption of who I am, or what I am and just need confirmation. Due to experiences like this, I have assimilated to the culture of “niceness” myself, in terms of race and ethnicity. Due to my personal experiences, I sometimes am afraid to ask someone what their race or ethnicity is, fearing that my idea of a properly worded way to ask this question is disrespectful to them. 

This same idea applies to the world of disability. Undoubtedly, it can be tough to ask a person questions about their disability, and it is even harder to ask them if they even have a disability in the first place (if it is not visible). As a result of this fear, one’s disability might be overlooked or ignored, just to avoid uncomfortableness or just out of pure forgetfulness–and I feel that because of this, people become unintentionally ableist.

Dr. Bialka provided us with the definition of ableism to be “the discrimination against or mistreatment of people identified or labeled as living with mental, emotional or physical differences, and the elevation of typically abled people into positions of power and privilege over people with these differences.” Ableism is responsible for the creation of ability privilege. Ability privilege in my own words, is to be able to benefit from all resources without even having to consider any accommodations and/or possibilities of ableist discrimination. One can encounter ability privilege in many places, such as school, the workplace, social events etc. The first example that comes to mind when considering ability privilege, is an employer considering an able body applicant instead of a wheel-chair bound applicant because the able body can more easily be mobile, which is something needed for the job applied for. This of course is a tough situation and many would agree, as it is hard to determine the right or wrong answer but despite it all, ability privilege is present.

Moreover, speaking of the workplace, the disability rhetoric definitely plays a role in perpetuating ability privilege. Disability rhetoric consists of the wondrous, the exotic, the sentimental, and the realistic. In an idealistic world, only the realistic rhetoric would be implemented but that is not the case. The ones I feel that may be the most encountered, particularly in the workplace is the sentimental and wondrous.

For the sentimental, I can see it being used when hiring an applicant like for example, the mindset of “I feel bad for this applicant, they deal with so much, so we should give him/her/them the job.” This idea of thinking that they need this job because they won’t get hired elsewhere is an example of perpetuating ability privilege. As for the wondrous, I can think of the mindset of “It’s so amazing that this person is applying to jobs, despite them suffering of a disability. So inspirational!” This notion of disabled people “being disabled, yet amazing” is degrading of their actual abilities because although they are being praised for them, it is being done so in a way that is not only overly exaggerated but offensive. These are only two examples in only the workplace, imagine the many other instances of ability privilege in school, social events, and overall everyday life.

To close, ableism is certainly still alive and I don’t see it going anywhere. Learning about this concept, I can now identify these occurrences when I encounter them and speak up about it, while spreading awareness. Ability privilege is something that I benefit from and being part of this dominant group in society, I will never exactly understand what it is like to be at this disadvantage but at least now I am aware and considerate of these drawbacks of the disabled community.

Extension Recap

My extension was the topic of invisible disabilities. For this discussion, my classmates and I read Montgomery’s “A hard look at invisible disability” and a few chapters from the Learning Disabilities: Stern & Ben Ami. While one reading was more personal and the other was more informative, both did a great job at showing me a little of what it is like to have a invisible disability. In Montgomery’s reading, he describes his struggles with his own personal disability. In his writing he brings up a point that resonated with me, the idea that he needs to prove his disability to people. This is a common issue within the disabled community because people both inside and outside of the disabled community might think that people with invisible disabilities don’t necessarily need accommodations because their disorders are not physical, or they might not even consider invisible disabilities as actual disabilities. As absurd as this sounds, it is a common issue and his text really shed light upon it for both my classmates and I. In the textbook readings, I read more about the technical stuff, like what kind of disabilities are invisible and what are the symptoms, how you should go about dealing with a invisible disability, etc. In particular it focused on the invisible disability of learning disabilities. I learned a lot of about various different kinds of learning disabilities that I had never known about. I can definitely say that this reading will help in the future as a educator, because I will know how to go about a student that shows signs of a learning disability.

Aforementioned, both readings were very effective in terms of getting the point across. However, the one that really stuck with me was the textbook chapters, only because I could not stop connecting the different symptoms to my younger sister’s actions and attitudes toward her school work. I spoke a little about her during my presentation, when I mentioned my concern of his having dyscalculia, the learning disability when a student cannot do math easily. As I mentioned she showed signs like getting frustrated when doing simple math problems, crying when attempting to understand word problems, not being able to do any math in her head etc. I also mentioned how disappointed that none of her teachers never noticed a learning disability pattern in her early years. This is why I really think it is important to be extremely educated in this area because learning disabilities are so common in not only the US but in the world. If a teacher cannot identify these symptoms early on, it may hinder a student from reaching their full potential in the classroom. Now that I know how to help my sister, I plan on doing so because I want the best for her education and her future.

At the end of my presentation, I added an exercise for my classmates to do where the objective was to show them a glimpse of what is it like to be a student who has a learning disability. What the video asked them to do was use the hand they don’t write with and write out the given sentence. At the end, they were asked to repeat the sentence without referring back to their paper. Many could not remember because they were too focused on maybe their penmanship, or how to hold their pencil correctly, or maybe didn’t have enough time to complete the task etc. A student with a learning disability experiences challenges like this, setting them behind, even when doing the simplest assignments. I hope my classmates really got something out the exercise, and my whole presentation!

Universal Design of Learning..Learning for ALL.

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I am fairly new to the world of disabilities and special education, but with the large amount of information that I have learned in such a small amount of time in IDS, I’ve really been able to start to point out the many injustices that occur to those of the disabled community. As we discussed in class, there are many barriers that students with disabilities face in many different kinds of situations, but in particular, the classroom setting. After talking about IDEA and the Universal Design for Learning, I’m not going to lie…I realized teaching is a lot harder than it seems to be, but definitely something I still want to master. After being informed of how many students have the will and potential to learn but cannot learn the same way as others due to their disabilities, I was left hurt; I am, however grateful for the programs like IEPs and 504s, and UDL in general.

Students with disabilities, does not only include those with physical disabilities but invisible ones as well. These students experiences a number of barriers that inhibit their inclusion in social, emotional and physical access in the classroom, some being not being able to participate in things like presentations, not being able to write notes, not being able to ask questions and participate actively in class, not being able to test/take exams in the same environment and sometimes even not being able to be a part of the social life at school. These are just a few examples of barriers out of many, but thanks to UDL, these barriers are becoming less of a nuisance and more of prideful difference.

Through my experience with LEVEL, I have been able to see these barriers for myself while assisting my students. To go into detail, one of my students is blind, thus making it much harder for him to do things like take notes, and of course, read and write. In college, these things are crucial to most students’ success, and due to his inability to see, a barrier is created. Nevertheless, my student is still always on top of his game thanks to his hard work and motivation and the assistance of his aid. My other student has moderate to severe cerebral palsy. His wheelchair limits him from many physical activities but mostly he struggles speaking at times. He tends to stutter and slur his words, making it hard to understand him at times. Some of the barriers he faces due to his disability include: trouble participating in class, performing presentations, doing group work, and overall communicating. Nonetheless, much like my first student that I described, he is still able to succeed in his college career against all odds, thanks to the help of his aid as well, but most of all his determination.

In today’s age, the Universal Design for Learning is becoming more and more versatile to accommodate for each students needs. It is thanks to this concept that an education has become more attainable for students of all abilities. Universal Design for Learning can address my first student’s barrier of taking notes, reading and writing by recording class and making it available for students to rewatch, as well as giving access to audiobooks for reading. For writing, making software with dictation like the ones we discussed last class available for students. For my second student, we can use UDL by accepting other forms of participation such as being an active listener or asking more poll questions then open ended questions, as well as allowing for more time on his presentations, and making sure that group work doesn’t require an excessive amount of verbal activity, and having more written work or other forms of work to give the student options. These UDL concepts are not something that I have directly experienced as I have not had a student in my classes with a visible disability. However, if there was a student in my class with an invisible disability that required UDL, I probably would have not known because I’m sure that they would have never reveal which student struggles with what. From my knowledge, I have not had a class that was as openly accessible and accommodating as IDS. I am however, sure that there was at least one student in each of my classes with some kind of invisible disability that might have required UDL to take place, considering the prevalence of learning disabilities in not only the country but in the world. With that being said, if I did, I feel that they did an exceptional job of making learning in our classrooms universal as I did not question any lesson or activity at all and I hope that all schools are being as universal in their teaching as they can possibly be.

Working with LEVEL

Working with LEVEL for the first time has been an experience like no other. The students I have been working with are so great inside and out. It really challenged the idea of service for me because it feels more like I am spending time with a friend that I help, rather than doing service. I love working with LEVEL so far because of the fact that it is more of a two-way relationship, where both the student and I are leaving with some new knowledge and understanding. I believe that this truly embodies the goal of service-learning.

I firmly believe that my experience with the LEVEL students has exceeded my expectations. In all honesty, I was a bit scared to work with my students at first just because I was worried that I would not know how to properly assist them with their needs, or that I would not understand the limitations of their disabilities. After just one session though, it became clear that that would not be an issue for me. I was easily able to look beyond their differences and see the students as regular classmates of mine, because they certainly are.

Both students that I’m working have inspired me in some way. Their stories are extremely moving. My first student shared with me his story about his college years. He expressed to me how much he dislikes school but remains determined to receive his bachelors degree. Though he is finally a senior, after 8 years at Villanova, he takes so much pride in his hard work (as he should!). I shared with him some of my experiences of when I’ve doubted myself and he gave me some awesome advice. He emphasized the importance of hard work, determination and accomplishment. My other student and I have become good friends as well. He is a bit more reserved, but still such a pleasure to work with. He also told me about his college years and shared some information with me about his major. His blindness is not a barrier for him at all, as he is insanely smart and passionate about his major. He was super thankful for my help, but I was extremely grateful to be able to be there for someone like him.

During my last meeting, I left with a big smile on my face. Although this was now my fourth time meeting with a LEVEL student, I was still a bit nervous because really I am no smarter than the students I help–if anything, they are more knowledgable than I am! While helping my student understand a concept from one of the readings we had read, his aide said to me, “You’re really good at this! You should be a teacher!” I was ecstatic and couldn’t help but cheese through the rest of my session. I can sincerely say that  LEVEL has allowed my passion for education to shine through. I am really looking forward to seeing what else my LEVEL friends can teach me!

 

Introduction Blog

 

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I am Tileyna Zamorano-Gonzalez, a Sophomore at Villanova University. I am currently an Environmental Science major who plans on switching over to the Education department. I want to eventually double major in Education and English. After college, I’d like to attend graduate school and get my master’s and maybe work in post-secondary education. Along with working with college students, I’d really love to get involved with high school students. Eventually, I want to start my own organization that provides low-income students with free services and great opportunities that will allow them to be successful college students. Other than my passion for education, I love to travel, listen to music, sing and be with my pets. I am a very passionate animal lover!

I am taking Intro to Disability Studies because it is my SSLC course. I was able to choose from a variety of awesome classes but this one stood out to me. I feel that the knowledge that I will gain from this class will help me on everyday basis for my future career, considering that I will be working with all kinds of students. What I really hope to gain from this course is the ability to see the world from another person’s lens–a disabled person’s to be specific. It is not something that I have thought about before, and I am looking forward to being enlightened.

The term “disability” means uniqueness to me. I always say that whatever one lacks, they make up for somewhere else; I feel that this really goes hand in hand with what a disability truly is. The human body varies in so many shapes and sizes, not everyone is going to be the same. With that being said, a disability is just another unique trait that one may have. I learned this from a close family friend when I was about 6 years old. His name was Robert, but my family and I called him Robertito. Robertito was about 9 at the time when we would play together. Robertito had Autism, which made him a bit different in a way that was unfamiliar to me, but a good kind of different. He was so sweet and kind. Robertito passed away when I was 8 years old but I was too young to understand why. Now that I am older and have the opportunity to take a course such as IDS, I am looking forward to understanding what exactly Robertito’s unique trait was and what it is like to be in the shoes of someone who has similar unique traits like his.

I am very excited to work with LEVEL and build a relationship with new people on campus! I am new to the program so I have a lot to learn but I can’t wait to start. I have been wanting to get involved on campus and I think that this is the best way to start. I have a feeling that I’m going to love being a part of LEVEL!