2021 Access and Crisis: Disability and the Collapse of Everything
The 4th University of Maryland (UMD) Disability Summit was held April 12th-14th, 2021 via Zoom, presented by: University of Maryland President’s Commission on Disability Issues and Trace Research & Development Center
The twinned crises of a global pandemic and a re-awakening to systemic racial injustice have reignited previously illuminated disparities for the disability community, compounded by a violently exclusionary presidential administration. These crises simultaneously highlight the marginalization of and provide new opportunities for disabled people. Now, it is a time of absurd, but very real, paradoxes. The “disposability” of certain bodies over others has elucidated deep ableism that undercuts both American, and global culture. While this has been met with resistance as well as widespread institutional change, just how many members of society are willing to recognize disability as part of social justice remains an unanswered question. Accommodations that were thought impossible for people with disabilities have now been made widely available. A swath of American employees can now work from home, yet the return to some sort of normalcy is also a threat to the health of many.
Crises of this magnitude will inevitably reshape society: How will they impact the lives of people with disabilities? How do we contribute to their well-being in the future?
The 4th Disability Summit went online due to the COVID-19 pandemic and attracted 1,000 registrants from around the world. Dr. Ashley Shew and Dr. Angel Love Miles joined the Summit as keynote speakers. They shared their expertise, insight, and experience as thought leaders and champions of intersectional disability justice. The program included live panel presentations covering topics such as Policing the Disabled Body, Accessibility in a Pandemic, Self Advocacy, Activism across the Globe, and more, plus a spoken word workshop and several pre-recorded sessions.
What attendees had to say about last year’s conference:
Advantages of the online format
It includes the accessibility of online programming for people with disabilities (e.g., “On-line accessibility is much less exhausting than in person”), the ease of navigating to the sessions/presentations, the ability to drop in or leave during sessions without disrupting others, the possibility to work on other tasks while listening to a session, and eliminating the need to travel (e.g., “As a Canadian, it was really great that this was hosted online. I never would have been able to attend this event if it had been in-person”).
Organization and logistics of the Summit
Attendees deemed the Summit “extremely well organized for an online conference.” They responded positively to the lack of concurrent sessions, which means they could attend all sessions of interest without worrying about scheduling conflicts, as well as to the generous pacing of sessions with “breaks in between talks to move around.” Another respondent notes, “I […] felt the moderators and speakers created a safe and collaborative environment, and really helped each other out. The conference had a great ‘feel’ to it, even though it was all virtual.”
Content and approach of the Summit
Attendees praised a variety of aspects of the conference content, including the “extremely important and often overlooked” topics, “quality of sessions, info, and presenters,” “variety of presentations and perspectives,” discussion of “current solutions to challenges,” “fantastic and valuable information for parents, educators, and people in the field,” and the “good mix of more academic and more community-based presentations.”
- “The tone and directness of the conversation. Hearing facts and practical experience from people with disabilities was useful.”
- “I liked the cross-section of speakers, and the fact that the content was so diverse and internationally-focused.”
Opportunities to learn
“I learned so much” was a common refrain from respondents, and many used the survey to describe the “new knowledge or information” they received from the Summit. A few examples:
- “I learned that it is important to include disabled persons (in a committee) when considering modifying physical structures on campus or signage when considering ADA modifications.”
- “I would enjoy learning more about the Intersectionality of identity.”
- “Interesting new perspectives on varying aspects of disability – I learned some new terminology and new perspectives on old terminology.”
- “I enjoyed hearing other people’s stories as those are always a good learning tool for me.”
Connections with others working in disability and related fields
In addition to learning from the presenters and presentations, some respondents indicated that the Summit was a way to connect with them afterwards, either directly or through social media.
One respondent described the Summit as “A virtual Master’s program in three days,” which we take as a high compliment to the variety, depth, and applicability of the program.
Hope to see you virtually in 2023!