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The Student News Site of Loyola University Maryland

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Discussing disability justice at Loyola


On Oct. 6, a virtual conversation touched the minds and hearts of the Loyola community. Several speakers shared their experiences with disability and discussed what disability looks like now, looked like in the past, and the progress needed for a more inclusive future. The Disability Justice Panel, part of the annual Loyola’s Commitment to Justice event, was moderated by Dr. Giuseppina Iacono Lobo, assistant professor of English at Loyola University Maryland. 

Speakers included Ken Capone, David Miller, Brittany Romanoff, Faith Williams, Edward Fine, and Dr. Erin J. Richardson. 

2020 marks the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a civil rights legislative act that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability. The ADA opened up a new world of possibilities to people living with disability, including equal employment, public accommodations, regulations concerning disability support, rights to equal transportation, and equal access to state or local government run programs. 

However, there’s still a lot more to do to promote inclusion and combat the systematic disparities found in educational, racial, and social spheres.

This event shined a light on longstanding positives and negatives of the impact of the ADA, the impact of the current COVID-19 pandemic on individuals with disabilities, disability wisdom, the intersection between the calls for racial justice and disability justice in light of the current national conversation, disability and mental health information in education, intersectionality in the disabled community, the importance of advocacy, and the common misrepresentation in disability storytelling as a whole. The event also conducted a live Q&A segment.  

The panel collectively discussed disability and how the lack of understanding plays a prominent role in the current violence being witnessed in this period of social unrest. 

“It is estimated between 1/3 and ½ of police killings each year involve people experiencing episodes of mental illness, making disabled people 16 times more likely to be killed in a police encounter. When we consider the fact that Black people are three times more likely to be killed by police than white people, the combined numbers are staggering” said Lobo.

Capone continued this discussion regarding disability and its relation to racial injustice, saying:

“Let’s think about the police shooting of Laquan McDonald, a Black teenager who was killed while acting erratically and holding a knife. There was much less focus on McDonald’s health [in the media]. It was found that he suffered from PTSD and complex mental health problems. That was likely relevant to his conduct the night of his death. It should have also determined the way the police should have estimated the interaction,” he said.

One recurring theme was that the disabled experience is not monolithic. There is essentially no typical experience of disability. Society needs to celebrate and derive wisdom from those differences. It’s critical to stop viewing disability as different from our own experiences and start recognizing the commonalities shared as human beings. 

“There is an unexamined opinion about what constitutes a disabled person. Even though the ADA takes a very, very generously broad definition of the word disabled, people just have this preconceived notion that disabled means that you are in a wheelchair, that disabled means you are helpless, or that you need constant attention or medical care, so on and so forth” said Fine ‘22, a Loyola student with dysgraphia, a learning disability that affects writing and fine motor skills. 

“It is so important for people with disabilities to share their stories about their abilities. It’s a way to raise expectations,” Capone said.

Stereotypes perpetuated by the national media about the experience of disability and mental health are debilitating to the true understanding of this diverse community of disability. It is important to be mindful about who is telling the stories of the disabled, and if these stories reflect an accurate representation of the population. 

“So often, when we see disability represented in Hollywood and on television, for instance, it’s often by actors who do not identify as disabled themselves. And so, we want to think about what that sort of misrepresentation looks like, and the ideas that are being propounded through those sorts of representations” said Dr. Lobo.

“I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve come across the stereotype, ‘You can’t be disabled because your grades are too high.’ Until we reach the point where we can sit here and question that and question the fundamental philosophy that underlines that, we are not going to get to a point where we can see ourselves in books, see ourselves in media as a whole,” Fine said.

COVID-19 has sent the nation into a period of transition and forced people to face the inherent inequalities in society. It has challenged the world to find a new normal, and society has been given an opportunity to use this time to discuss what needs to change in order to validate and uplift different experiences. What does accommodation for students with disabilities look like in light of the global pandemic? Accessibility to information is key so that everyone is included in the conversation, since it can mean life or death in the face of the virus.  

“We need to report the data of COVID-19 testing, infection, mortality, and outcomes for people with disabilities. We are an ignored health population. We don’t even get counted. My doctor’s visits have been cancelled multiple times,” Capone said. 

Fine continued, saying:

“COVID-19 has brought to light this situation. What about those high functioning students with disabilities who perform best with face to face interaction? It’s problematic because in the long run it is the student who suffers. We need to start including into the conversation, how can we help these students?” he said.

Speaking on COVID-19 and its effects on student performance, education can be a good starting place for those unsure how to approach the conversation about disability and mental health. It’s the key to improving generational awareness and brainstorming solutions to long held institutional problems.

“There was no curriculum about disabilities. Certainly, very little, if any curriculum about mental health. And this is something that needs to be changed in order to address these systemic problems,” Fine said.

Since injustices in society are all interconnected, it’s important to re-focus on advocacy. It’s the little things done every day to become an educated and active citizen that makes all the difference. 

“It’s important of everyone to be aware that you can be an advocate regardless of who you are, disabled and non-disabled alike. For me personally, from taking classes at Loyola and learning more about it, I realize that it’s really important to do what you can to individually be an advocate. That can take many forms. It can be conversations at the dinner table, it can be writing papers, writing something for a magazine, it can be just having conversations with your friends. In your careers in the future, it can be seeing how you can implement and include diverse experiences,” Romanoff said.

For generations to come, this groundwork is critical.

“It’s a lost opportunity to not educate our children about differences. And how to look at that difference and celebrate it and appreciate the wisdom that grows out of that kind of difference…I always tell my students to embrace being uncomfortable. It’s not a bad place to be. These are moments of self-reflection— these are moments of growth,” Lobo said.

So, what’s the bottom line?

Disability justice is now. It starts with honest conversation. It starts with active listening. It starts with education. It starts with allyship. It starts with amplifying the diverse voices of the disabled. It starts with being a good friend. It starts with everyone, and everyone has an obligation to recognize the humanity in everyone and lean into difficult conversations. 

This event was sponsored by Loyola’s Commitment to Justice Committee, Messina, Common Text Program, Pre-Health Programs, Health Outreach Baltimore, Baltimore Health Immersion, Loyola Clinical Centers, Center for Community Service and Justice, Campus Ministry, Department of Biology, Law and Social Responsibility, Mission Integration, Society for Underrepresented in Pre-Health Students and the Office of Academic Affairs.

To view the recording of this zoom webinar, please visit

To learn more about the Americans with Disabilities Act, please visit

Featured Image courtesy of Crain National via Flickr Creative Commons

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Discussing disability justice at Loyola