Letter to the Editor: Fostering sensitivity in the face of ignorance toward disabilities

Avery Baggett

Hi, UK family, my name is Avery Baggett. You may have seen me walking around campus; I carry a white cane because I have low vision. In addition, I have a pronounced speech disorder. I’m a Masters student in the Linguistics department with a full graduate assistantship in which I lead recitations. My Linguistics family has been more than accommodating to my many needs, and I thank everyone who has enriched my time at UK. My experience both as a teacher and as a student has been largely positive, but one instance sticks out to me that compels me to address the UK community at large.

Late last semester I was checking my teacher course evaluations, and while most of them were overwhelmingly positive, one negative evaluation gave me pause. This particular evaluation was written: “Her disabilities put stain on our education.” This student’s apparent total lack of empathy stunned and shocked me.

UK is a public institution, welcoming all students who have earned a spot here, regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation, ability, race, and any other federally protected status. It concerns me that this kind of thinking still exists, and that it exists so close to home. I’m an extremely capable teacher with lots of experience. At the onset of the semester, I had invited my students to stop me if they ever did not understand my speech and to ask for assistance in any work. While much of the material for my LIN 211 recitation was indeed visual, I made a point to have a sighted friend go over the visual media so that I could answer any questions that arose.

I have tried to use my platform as a teacher with disabilities to foster sensitivity regarding the nearly 45 million Americans living with a disability, either visible or invisible. I urge every student, faculty and staff member to call out such toxic thinking or hurtful speech to address the ignorance and discomfort it must stem from. 

To the student, should I have the opportunity to sit down with him and have a conversation, I would say to him that disabilities are uncomfortable for everyone. I’m sure it is scary to imagine yourself in my shoes. Before I became disabled, I would have been scared too. But the human spirit has limitless resilience, and if you were faced with my situation, you would overcome. I promise I am a worthwhile person to get to know. We all are, even those of us that are noticeably different. We have something to offer and we enrich the world around us, just like you do. I do not believe that I am a stain on this university, I believe ignorance is the stain that colors the fabric of understanding.