The Disability Advocacy Student Coalition discussed a history of unfair and inhumane treatment of disabled people that continued into the 1990s at the Disability History Night on Monday in the William C. Powers, Jr. Student Activity Center.
Coalition treasurer Caroline Graves spoke about policy improvements for disabled people in the 20th century to about 15 attendees. Graves, a public relations and government senior, said disabled people were subject to “ugly laws” from the late 1800s to the 1970s.
Beggar ordinances, known as “ugly laws,” varied from state to state, but collectively dictated it was “illegal for any person who is diseased, maimed, mutilated or deformed in any way, so as to be unsightly or disgusting, to expose themselves in public.” Graves has played an active role in the coalition by trying to inform individuals on the history of disability activism and to make campus more accessible for students.
“People very rarely have an opportunity to learn about disability history and the disability rights movement,” said Emeline Lakrout, coalition president and marketing senior. “Most people don’t even know it exists.”
The most recent piece of legislation to advance accessibility was the Americans with Disabilities Act, enacted in 1990. The law forbids discrimination against a person’s disability in areas such as employment and transportation.
The organization hosts frequent meetings and other interactive events to raise awareness about disability at UT. This is the second disability history night organized to educate students on the history of disability rights and the struggles disabled people have faced in generating public policy for accessibility.
“I hope it opens up people’s minds to question what they know about disability and become better allies and advocates for people with disabilities,” Graves said.
Applied learning and development sophomore Olivia Guffey attended the history night for her psychology class, Individual Differences. She hoped to enhance her understanding of disabilities at the event.
“(I learned) a lot more here than in my class, which was surprising,” Guffey said. “I learned that the whole history and movement was way bigger than I ever thought.”
Lakrout said the coalition aims to give students opportunities to connect through their four pillars: advocacy and awareness, philanthropy, professionalism and friendship.
“It can be really hard when you’re disabled to connect with others, both visibly and invisibly, so we try to provide people areas to do that,” Lakrout said.
The Disability Advocacy Student Coalition will host their next event, a benefit fundraiser, on April 9.