Reflection: Ability

Every time I find myself discussing ability I grasp onto some new concept that I want to understand further. During our class discussion on ability I was intrigued by differing perceptions of ability and how they relate to identity. Identity is always an interesting topic, is it something we place upon ourselves or something assigned to us by society?

I am of the firm opinion that identity is constructed by the individual, made up of important pieces of ones life that can be either visible or invisible. This is where our conversation about ability struck me most. More often than not people with impairments are identified by others by their impairment. Even in An Anthropologist on Mars by Oliver Sacks he focuses mainly on impairment to set the stage of his stories. These stories evolve and express more in-depth identity traits, but I could not help but feel as though his subjects would accept the impairment as part of their identities but not the key identity trait.

I understand that physical traits are the most obvious to the casual observer, however we should become more involved in discovering the abilities behind the impairments. Impairments might be limiting in on aspect, but people with impairments are still extremely productive and capable members of society and should be treated as such. This class offered multiple interpretations on what constitutes an impairment (physical ability, gender, race, sexuality, mental ability etc).

Listening and dialogue continue to be highlighted as the keys to bridging the gap of understanding. It seems so easy, but until we all realize that we can (and actually try to) communicate effectively and openly with people with impairments there will continue to be little to no change in museums as institutions. Museum professionals need to become more proactive in isolating the needs of all community members and how those needs can be met.

“Nothing about me without me” should be written into every program, exhibit, event and everything else museums do. Consulting community members with impairments will increase the impact of exhibits and will more importantly begin to change the stigmas surrounding impairments. That is the true responsibility of museum professionals: to create a more inclusive society.

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