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2011 Spring Issue 1 (April 8, 2011)

Students address “The Elephant in the Room” at disabilities talk

April 8, 2011
By Ben Hubbert

Disability at Carleton was the focus of “The Elephant in the Room,” an event, sponsored by the Wellness Center and the SWAs on Monday evening.

Andy Christensen, Carleton College’s disability coordinator, organized  the event was created to get people to start thinking about disabilities, both visible and invisible.  “I wanted people to think about disability in new ways,” said Christensen.  “It’s not an issue of helping. It’s an issue of being aware and of respecting different groups.”

Event speakers agreed that “The Elephant in the Room” differed from other events on campus.  One senior who spoke at the event about her experiences with depression remarked that she had “never been to an event which has, as its main goal, to help each other survive Carleton.”

 Instead of centering the event around the speakers, Christensen and the SWAs who co-hosted the event spent time coming up with a list of questions which the occupants of each table could discuss amongst themselves. 

One central lesson of the event was that a disability isn’t always visible; most of the speakers had no visible signs of the conditions they suffered.  Sometimes their disability was invisible to them.  A junior who spoke about dyslexia said it took him some time to realize that “my difficulty in reading and writing was about something besides a dearth of intelligence.”

Likewise, a senior who struggled with depression said “clinical depression is disabling, but not visible…. So I never thought of it as a disability.”

All of the speakers were proud of what they had achieved despite their difficulties.  Sammy said that “I viewed dyslexia as a badge of honor because I could cope with it… [it was] a reminder that I am self reliant and can make it through some of the curveballs life throws at me.” 

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