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Disability Summit to Examine Advances in Access, Equity

Global Panel of Virtual Presenters Will Speak on Effects of Pandemic, Social and Racial Justice Movements

By Maryland Today Staff

Silhouettes of people walking with canes, in wheelchairs, with prosthetics

Illustration by iStock

The UMD Disability Summit will host professionals, educators, academics, service providers, allies and advocates focusing on disability issues in three days of virtual sessions next week.

As COVID-19 spread around the world last spring, it seemed to some people with disabilities that the impossible had suddenly become not just possible, but widespread.  

They could now enjoy long-sought accommodations to live fuller lives: expanded home deliveries of supplies, curbside service, teleworking and learning, and telehealth opportunities—aware that few of the changes had been made for their benefit.

“I’m glad these things are now available, but I’m also bitter that for all this time, it supposedly just couldn’t be done,” said Ashley Shew, a multiply-disabled Virginia Tech assistant professor who studies disability and the philosophy of technology. “Will these accommodations last? That’s what everyone is wondering now.”

Shew will be the opening keynote speaker on Monday at the University of Maryland Disability Summit, presented by the President’s Commission on Disability Issues and co-sponsored by UMD’s Trace Research and Development Center. The three-day summit this year, titled “Access and Crisis: Disability and the Collapse of Everything,” will tackle the ongoing effects of the pandemic on people with disabilities. This translates to expanded access in some cases, greater difficulty in others, and a laying bare of discrimination that disabled people still face.

The event will also zero in on the other earthquake of the last year—a revived social justice movement in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis. Panelists and closing keynote speaker Angel Love Miles Ph.D. ’16 will examine intersectionality and the increased burden for people of color with disabilities, as well as the need for disability to be squarely in the discussion when matters of societal fairness and equity arise.

“We’ve heard discussion in the media about populations struggling to get vaccines, but you don’t hear much about disabled people and vaccines,” said Paul T. Jaeger, a professor in the College of Information Studies and co-chair of the summit’s organizing committee. “All these complexities of access are not being acknowledged in discussions about dealing with the pandemic.”

The Disability Summit has grown into a global event since it was first held in 2016, Jaeger said—a process ironically further facilitated when the pandemic drove it online (where Jaeger expects it to remain permanently) and increased its accessibility for the approximately 1,000 attendees this year. Its breadth is also unique, covering the spectrum of disabilities and including professionals, educators, academics, service providers, allies and advocates focusing on disability issues.

“This is the best lineup we’ve ever had, and it’s kind of hard to pick a favorite,” Jaeger said. Here are some of the choices over the summit:

Schools & Departments:

College of Information

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