Celebrate Disability Awareness

Here at the end of April, the month when CUNY celebrates disability awareness, it seems particularly appropriate to highlight related events, fellowships, and some sad news. Back in February, a group of CUNY students, faculty, and staff travelled to Albany to lobby for increased funds for disability access to higher education. It was a wonderful day, filled with community spirit and disability pride, celebrations of student achievement and the chance to let our legislators know how important access to higher education is. Following our advocacy day, members of Queens College’s Committee For Disabled Students helped organize a letter writing campaign to urge legislators to support the budget request for increased funding for disability access.

Scholarships and fellowships are another important way to support your education and celebrate your identity as a person with a disability. Many awards are intended to assist under-represented students financially and by providing mentoring and other professional development opportunities. Selection committees are interested in getting to know the person behind the transcript. What are your challenges and triumphs? How do you contribute to your neighborhood, college or identity community? Check out other posts in this blog on specific opportunities and email the Fellowships Office at qcfellowships@qc.cuny.edu for advice on your applications.

This month, we lost a committed public servant and disability rights pioneer. An immigrant to the United States, Avraham Rabby was the first blind United States Foreign Service Officer. Despite passing written and oral exams several times, Mr. Rabby was kept from serving by misperceptions of blindness. In a landmark case for the civil rights and employment of people with disabilities, he was granted reasonable accommodations to do the job for which he was well-qualified and took up his first post in the early days of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Mr. Rabby’s persistence in the face of significant opposition increased opportunities for others and helped change perceptions of people with disabilities. Responding to the claim that a diplomat had to see nonverbal reactions during negotiations, Mr. Rabby told The New York Times that “no international treaty has ever been decided on the basis of a wink or a nod”. As you can read about in previous posts, there are several awards designed to celebrate the diversity of the United states and to welcome a breadth of backgrounds and experiences into the Foreign Service.

Perhaps these days of sheltering in place can allow you to reflect on your various identities. How is your membership in the disability community a source of strength and pride? What new ways of doing things have you developed as a result of your disability? How do you mentor others? How does your disability identity intersect with your cultural, racial, gender or religious identities? As you think about how you’d like to tell your story in fellowship statements, you might enjoy hearing how others with disabilities tell theirs. Maysoon Zayid uses humor to convey the challenges of being a Muslim woman with cerebral palsy. Daniel Kish points out that fear of blindness is more limiting than blindness itself. Judith Heumann recounts the history of the disability rights movement, celebrating how far we have come and calling for the work still to be done. Itzhak Perlman offers advice for coping with the Covid-19 pandemic based in part on his experience of polio.

What about you? What are your dreams and plans? The Fellowships Office is one of the many resources at Queens College that can help you achieve them; we’d love to accompany you on your journey.


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