It’s A Part of Who I Am

August 18, 2017 | Annika Ariel, 2017 AAPD Summer Intern

There’s this funny word that appears in quite a few articles about disability: despite. Exact usage of the phrase “despite his disability” appears in well over one hundred thousand articles on Google. The first article that comes up promptly declares “FDR: A Giant Despite His Disability”. Similar articles follow for hundreds of pages.

It’s a sentiment I’m very much used to, and before this summer, one I was almost comfortable with. I’m the only student with a visible disability at Amherst College, a small liberal arts college in Massachusetts. To say Amherst’s administration reacts negatively toward disability would be the understatement of the year. Suffice to say that I once had one of our chief administrators tell me that disability is an ‘ugly’ word and then interrogate me about how I could possibly navigate around campus safely as a blind woman. This woman plays a major part in deciding whether or not I have textbooks I can read. The topic of administrative inadequacy concerning disability is certainly worthy of discussion. However, what I want to talk about is a more insidious method of ableism. Many well-meaning students and faculty have told me that I “do so much” for a blind person or that “even though” I’m blind, I’ve managed to accomplish a lot.

It seems like it’s always the but in a sentence meant to introduce me: Annika’s blind, but she’s captain of the mock trial team! Or, Annika’s blind, but she’s presenting research in England this summer. It’s almost never an and. The idea that I can be both blind and accomplished seems unfathomable to most people. My accomplishments are always something I’ve done despite my blindness, like I’ve had to throw aside my disability to get anything done. This sentiment couldn’t be further than the truth: losing my sight in high school forced me to be a creative, hardworking person. Having to fight for every single accommodation I’ve needed in college has made me a tireless advocate. Who I am is not independent of my disability. My disability has caused me to develop personality traits that have been directly relevant to some of my accomplishments. Partially because of my disability, I want to be the absolute best that I can be, both to benefit myself and to benefit potential other blind students. I’m often aware that I’m the only blind person at an event or in an organization, and I take this responsibility. I may be the first blind person, but it’s more important that I’m not the last. I don’t want to be accomplished or talented despite my disability: it’s a part of who I am, not a part I thrust aside when convenient.


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Annika Ariel is a 2017 Summer Intern. This summer she interned for Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA).

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