This past Saturday, I visited Luna Dance Institute in Berkeley, California, to attend the Dance & Disability Discourse & Panel—a discussion with five artists, educators and researchers about access and equity for disabled students in dance education. Here are three statements from the discussion that I found eye-opening.
"There are things that haven't changed in 30 years." —Judith Smith
Judith Smith, the founder and director of the Oakland-based inclusive dance troupe AXIS Dance Company, recognizes that although progress has been made, there is still significant work to do to provide equal access and opportunities to disabled dancers. She noted that disabled dancers can't get a dance degree at most universities, they can't drop in on any technique class they want and there aren't enough training opportunities available to them.
"Compliance with law should be the lowest bar. We should go far beyond this." —Emily Nusbaum
Emily Nusbaum, a professor at University of San Francisco who specializes in disability studies and inclusion, pointed out that conversations about access and equity for disabled people are most commonly framed in terms of compliance with the law, specifically with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which became a law in 1990. While compliance with ADA is important, it's often not enough, especially when you consider the wide range of both physical and intellectual disabilities.
"We need to question the words we use." —Eric Kupers
Eric Kupers is a dance professor at Cal State University East Bay and directs Bandelion, an integrative performance ensemble. He talked about how he has to check himself on using able-bodied language when he teaches. Words like "technique," "proficiency," and "mastery" imply athleticism and an able-bodied perspective on dance.
What do you think? What steps can dance educators take to provide equal opportunities to disabled students?