Date of Defense
Date of Graduation
There is no more room for pity. It is time to emphasize abilities, not limitations. We as humans use individuals' lim itations to label them. The words we use, and how we use them, lead us to approach an individual with a predetermined mindset. This is prevalent especially in the medical world when approaching people living with mental or physical disabilities. Outside of the medical world, the problem runs even deeper. These labels craft an idea that these ind ividuals are not our equals. We define them by their disabi lities. Regardless of ability, people are people first. They are not defined by their disability, even though we tend to portray them as such. The concept of person-first language - emphasizing that an individual is a person first, disability second - is essential to successfully navigate our relationships and interactions with others. Defining someone as their diagnosis creates a barrier: an us-versus-them world. It is time to update our vocabularies and engage individuals with mental and physical diagnoses as equal members of our society.
The thesis I have created as a member of Western Michigan University's Lee Honors College is centered on the concept of people fi rst, disability second. I wanted to give individuals living with a mental or physical disability- and myself - the space to express ourselves and share our voices. I wanted to emphasize that we are so much more than the "limitations" that are impressed upon us. Moreover, I hoped to achieve a space where we could see these "limitations" as unique traits that leave room to express other abi lities. These foundational ideas led to "Sparring Stigmas: A Photography Series." I took my passion for photography and created a project that holds meaning, not only in my life as a future occupational therapist but also in the lives of my subjects. There are three components to my project: the stigma, the sparring, and the story. The stigma is a photo portraying an individual's diagnosis as they feel society views it. The sparring is a second photo, portraying how the individual perceives themselves, their personality, and how they want to be represented to the world. The story, addressed to the world (Dear world ... ), is the third and final component of my project, a reflection written by the individual on their experience with this project and anything they would like the public to know regarding their diagnosis and who they are as a person. Each person involved in "Sparring Stigmas" has been given the opportunity to express themselves in front of the camera however they wish. My hope in doing this is to have physical evidence that regard less of diagnosis, each one of us has something worth sharing and a voice worth hearing.
Each of us has a story worth hearing. I am ready to listen, and the world better be ready too.
VanEssen, Audrey, "Sparring Stigmas: A Photography Series" (2019). Honors Theses. 3170.