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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is disability culture?

"Disability culture" and "disability cultural pride" are terms referring to a wide variety of movements and subcultures that promote the idea that disability can be part of one's identity, as are race, class, gender and gender identity/expression, sexual orientation, national origin, linguistic background, religious/philosophical beliefs, etc.  To many people who have never thought of disability from this perspective before, it can be tempting to wonder, "Why would someone be proud of having a disability?"  Indeed, disability cultural pride is complex.  As a general rule, people who adopt disability as part of their identities do so as a way to express happiness and pride in who they are, and to talk back against societal norms that often tell them that they are "broken," or need to be "cured."  This does not mean that having a disability is always a pleasant experience, or that the only people asserting disabled identities are those who consider themselves merely to be "different."

Rather, it's about seeing your disability(ies)—both the positive and challenging aspects—as part of what makes you unique, and choosing to define yourself on your terms.  (Similarly, who's to say that life without a disability is always a piece of cake?)  It's also important to remember that "disability" is not always something physical or obvious.  Anyone, whether they identify as quadriplegic, deaf, autistic, blind, emotionally variant, as someone with an intellectual/developmental disability—or any other identity, including nondisabled/able-bodied—is welcome to join the DCC in engaging with the idea of disability as culture, pride, and identity.

Certain disability cultural subgroups will deliberately capitalize the first letter of the label they use to identify themselves.  This is done to show a sense of connection to the larger community of people who identify in this way, rather than just describing a "condition."  The American Deaf community is one group that is known widely for doing this; other examples include some people identifying with the Autistic and Blind communities.  Similarly, some people with disabilities may identify themselves using terms that some might consider to be offensive, such as "crip," "gimp," and "mad."  This is often done as a way to show pride in one's identity, and to "reclaim" words that have traditionally been used to demean people whose minds or bodies varied from the "norm."  This is similar to how some individuals have reclaimed the word "queer."  However, these terms can, at times, still have derogatory meanings, especially if used by people outside of an "in-group" of those who choose to identify themselves in these ways.


What is disability studies?

Disability studies is an interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary academic field that addresses how factors such as history, the media, science, and social power converge to create the concept(s) we often label as "disability."  The field of disability studies places strong emphasis on the idea that disability is not a single, objectively determinable "thing," and that people with disabilities need to be leaders in the conversations about them/us—a right which they/we have traditionally been denied.  Disability studies scholars recognize and value disability as a part of diversity.  A common saying among disability rights activists is "Nothing About Us, Without Us."


What does it mean to promote access and inclusion in higher education?

Here at the Disability Cultural Center, we strive to be on the cutting edge of accessibility.  To promote access and inclusion for all members of the campus community means to ensure that everyone feels as if they belong, and that their contributions are valued.  We believe strongly in the idea of universal design: making physical and learning environments accessible to the widest number of people, from the beginning.  Some (although certainly not all) examples of universal design in action include:

  • Ensuring that all DCC materials contain large-print text, information that is readable by screen-reading software, and Braille.

  • Maintaining a fully accessible website.  Website visitors who prefer not to have images are advised to turn off images when browsing.

  • Providing alternative text for images and captions for videos.

  • Having American Sign Language (ASL) and CART (Computer Assisted Real-Time Transcription/Communication Access Real-Time Translation) available at events, whenever possible.

  • Ensuring that events and programs are designed in ways that accommodate the needs of people who may be sensitive to various sensory stimuli (e.g., flickering lights, loud noises).

  • Understanding the variability in people's emotions and emotional responses.


What kinds of services or accommodations do you offer to students with disabilities?

We actually do not offer accommodations at the DCC; if you are looking for testing or other types of support services and accommodations, please contact the Office of Disability Services (ODS) at 315-443-4498.  While the DCC and ODS collaborate at times on various things, such as ensuring accessibility for events, they are two separate entities, with different (but connected) purposes.  SU's Disability Cultural Center is housed under the Division of Student Affairs—and is the first center of its kind in the USA to be affiliated with a student affairs department and not a disability services office.


So the DCC and the Office of Disability Services (ODS) are separate?

Yes—although both entities work collaboratively in a number of different capacities.  ODS and the DCC may co-sponsor events together, just as the DCC co-sponsors events with other organizations on campus.  While ODS provides services to students in order to ensure equal access to education, the DCC provides members of the SU and Syracuse community with a place to engage with disability as part of culture and identity.


Can anybody visit the DCC and participate in your programming, or are your activities only for students?

Yes!  Everyone is welcome.

The DCC serves as a meeting place for students, faculty, staff, and community members with and without disabilities and disability identities.  Since we are a unit within the Division of Student Affairs, we are especially concerned with meeting the needs of undergraduate and graduate students.  For more information about our mission, please visit our "About" page, here.


I/my organization want(s) to connect with the DCC about sponsoring a speaker/event/etc.

If you are interested in seeking DCC sponsorship for a speaker, event, etc., please call 315-443-4486, or email Diane (dwiener@syr.edu) or Alex (aumstead@syr.edu).


I dislike my disability, and can't imagine why I'd want to be proud of it. However, I'm still interested in connecting with other people who may have had similar experiences to me. Is there still a place for me at the DCC?

Yes!  People experience their own disability identities and other physical or neurological differences in a wide variety of ways.  We welcome and encourage conversations around all of the ways that we experience and interact with our various identities.


What is the proper etiquette/terminology to use when talking about disability, or to people with disabilities?

Where can I find more information or resources about disability culture and identity?

I feel that I have been the victim of an act of bias, or I have witnessed an act of bias. Where can I report this incident?
Please visit the website for SU's STOP BIAS initiative, here.  For information on how to identify acts of bias, please visit http://www.syr.edu/currentstudents/stopbias/whatisbias.html.  To report an act of bias, please visit the Bias Incident Reporting Form.

From the STOP BIAS website (http://www.syr.edu/currentstudents/stopbias/whatisbias.html):

"Some examples of bias incidents include:

  • Telling jokes

  • Name-calling

  • Stereotyping

  • Offensive graffiti

  • Avoiding or excluding others"

Acts of bias against people with disabilities specifically may also include (but are not limited to):

  • Insisting on knowing someone's disability diagnosis.

  • "Outing" an individual as disabled without that person's permission, or implying that someone has a disability, whether that individual identifies as disabled or not.

  • Treating someone as "less than" anyone else because of having a disability identity, receiving accommodations, or being perceived as disabled.

  • Treating adults as though they are children.

  • Using slurs about disability.

  • Using the term "retarded" (or similar words, such as "retard," "tard," "mentally handicapped," and "short bus") to refer to a person, place, idea, or object, or otherwise using words associated with disabilities to characterize or describe something/someone in a negative way.  People who have been labeled as "retarded," whether by peers or by medical or educational professionals, tend to find any use of this term to be highly offensive.  It is important to note that using "retarded" in an explicitly medical or psychological context does not make it any less offensive.

  • Using terms like "crazy" or "unstable" to describe someone who is acting in an "unusual" way, and assuming that individuals who are acting "unusually" are dangerous.

  • Telling someone who may have a disability things like "I'll pray for you," "you're so inspirational," or "I don't know how you can stand to live like you do," because some individuals may find this language hurtful or offensive.

  • Making comments in a class about why individuals who receive accommodations do or do not "deserve" them, or that individuals with disabilities (or with any particular disability or disability identity) do not "belong" in a college classroom.

  • Telling someone who receives accommodations that they do not actually "need" them, or otherwise implying that this individual is "lazy" or "cheating the system."

Once again, this is not an exhaustive list; rather, it is a guide for identifying certain, but not all, acts of bias against persons with or perceived as having disabilities.

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FAQ created 2012 by DCC Graduate Assistant Alex Umstead