Our nation’s community colleges have long been active in serving our diverse populations, particularly those to whom a private, elite education was neither readily available nor affordable. “No other segment of higher education,” writes the American Association of Community College, “is more responsive to its community and workforce needs than the community college.” Today, united by “the shared goals of access and service” sustained by open admission policies and low tuition rates, they form a network of 1,166 institutions of higher education that educate more than fifty percent of our nation’s undergraduates.
Established in 1962, the Maricopa County Community College District is a proud adherent to this tradition and praxis. As such, it takes great pride in welcoming and serving members of Arizona’s diverse population, with particular emphasis on providing teaching and learning opportunities to students who might otherwise be denied them. Its role, therefore, is that of gateway rather than gatekeeper to higher education in Arizona. This TEDx event, titled “Access Arizona: Inclusion and Accessibility,” celebrates a time-honored tradition by welcoming speakers from all walks of life who embrace the ideals of accessibility and inclusivity and have dedicated themselves to acting on them.
Disability is only one facet of many regarding diversity, but one that is all too rarely acknowledged and included in human and civil rights discourses.
Perceptions, understanding, attitudes, and practices regarding this condition have long been evolving. Religious literature, pervaded by magical thinking, attributed “disorders” as punishment for moral failings or family curses and miracles as evidence of divine intervention. Medical literature, based in the Enlightenment faith in knowledge and progress, led humans to think of disability in terms of an individual in need of a remedy for some given pathogen or disorder, sometimes resulting in the surrender of agency and healing to experts and specialists. Sociological literature brought us the idea that perhaps the problem didn’t rest so much in the person with the disability as in the disabling nature of the “built environment,” perpetuated by elitist ableism.
Experts in universal design, while noting that older forms of technology, such as stairs, could be replaced with more inclusive, enabling ones, noted also that such improvements and means are rarely selected and when they are, begrudgingly.
Lest we forget, all of us, though, are only temporarily able-bodied, given the innate fragility of the human body. Our entry into the disability community, therefore, is virtually inevitable. It may come by way of genetics, disease, injury, or age, but, one way or another, we had best prepare ourselves to join. It is the one minority group to which all of us will at some point in our lives belong. Denial of such, steeped in ableism, the ideology of the able-bodied, ultimately works against our own best long-term interests. So, too, do any barriers to accessibility and full inclusion we perpetuate or allow.
This TEDx event features individuals who have had a tremendous impact in our communities, especially regarding accessibility and inclusion. We are extremely fortunate to have them in our midst, sharing their wisdom, stories, insights, and ideas
Speakers may not be confirmed. Check event website for more information.