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Project Gives Voice To The Voiceless

Dom Dellos, Reporter

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Students, professors, friends, and family gathered in Lemmond Theater April 26 for “The Voices Project: Disability,” a unique presentation of the memoirs of people with disabilities.

Presented by the MU Psychology department, the free event featured students, faculty, staff, and those with disabilities playing characters who represented real life stories of disability, which were the result of interviews completed by students of Dr. Alicia Nordstrom. This is the second time Nordstrom staged the event.

The stories of the disability experience included those of people with cerebral palsy, spina bifida, stuttering, spinal cord injuries, blindness, deafness, dwarfism, arthrogyposis, and other disabilities. Stories also included parents of people with disabilities.

Nordstrom said the goal of the event is to help people understand disability as explained through the eyes of people in the community.

“Our mission is to go out and support and underrepresented group of people,” said Nordstrom, director and narrator of the production. “We want to open conversation and raise the issue in order to explore it.”

As narrator, Nordstrom raised thought-provoking ideas, which challenged the social definition of “normal.”
“There is no ‘best’ way that is ‘best’ for everyone,” Nordstrom explains. “If so many have disabilities or will have disabilities, why isn’t being disabled the norm? Difference adds quality to our lives. It means everyone is included.”

With the help of the MU chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America, Nordstrom was able to promote the event with eye-catching posters around campus and even a Facebook page. The enormous crowd proved that the word got out.

According to Sharon Quinn, manager of independent living services for the NEPA Center for Independent Living who partnered with Nordstrom, the event was important because it connects students with advocacy.

“Every time you’re exposed, you have awareness and sensitivity,” Quinn said. “The more we can work with programs and increase outreach, it breaks down barriers.”

According to Nordstrom, the greatest barriers for the disabled aren’t disabilities, but the able bodied who don’t create environments to accommodate all people. Taking the time to come together to hear true stories helps shed light on an issue that is commonly ignored, she said.

“When I do these programs, I feel that stories stick in students’ minds better than something like a lecture would,” Nordstrom said. “I want it to be engaging and have people sucked in.”

“It’s part of life,” said Kit Foley, Dean of Students. “We need to understand people not like us. The more we can understand difference and the more that doesn’t come from our perspective, the richer our lives become.”

Foley portrayed a character on stage, telling the story of a woman who experienced a spinal cord injury. Following the event, she was able to meet the woman whom she represented.

“It was a humbling experience to provide a voice to someone’s story,” Foley said. Some students, like junior Thomas Komor, a physical therapy student, attended as a class assignment.

“It’s nice to hear a first person perspective,” said Komor. “We wouldn’t know what a person goes through without their testimony.”
According to Quinn, the learning experience is important for the education of students who may need it in their careers.

“This is the perfect population [to talk to],”Quinn said. “Education majors will have to experience a child with a disability and reiterate to their students that they are just like other kids.”

“I think a broad education should be broad in every way,” said Dr. Scott Blanchard, an English professor who was in attendance. “It’s important to teach different disciplines and exposure to different experiences.”

According to Blanchard, the event helps students push the boundaries and allows them to question and rethink them.

“Talking about disabilities is seen as taboo and bad, but students need to explore these thoughts before entering their careers,” Nordstrom said. According to Quinn, the event will raise awareness among many groups of people.

“It’s a ripple effect,” Quinn says. “Kids will tell their parents and friends about the event and I always hear people saying ‘I never knew that’. Something like this is so valuable.”

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Project Gives Voice To The Voiceless