Imagine you encounter a staircase, and at the bottom, needing to go up the flight but with no access to a ramp or elevator, there is a disabled person in an electric wheelchair.
Does the problem lie in the fact that the person is disabled and cannot walk up the stairs, or is the problem architectural, meaning the building is ill-equipped to meet the needs of that disabled person?
Norman Kunc, a world-renowned disability rights advocate, visited Jamestown Community College on Tuesday to present this question, among many others, to a room full of people sitting in on the President's Roundtable lecture series.
"People tend to see a problem within the disabled person who can't walk up stairs like most can, and miss seeing the real problem in there being no provided way for them to get up," Kunc said. "That is a societal issue."
To help change the way people view disabled citizens, Kunc, who lives with cerebral palsy, has dedicated his life to traveling the world, lecturing and working to change the common presumption that people with disabilities are "not normal."
His lecture demonstrates that not only are disabilities a normal part of life, they are inevitable.
"Disability is an inherent part of the human condition that has always been with us and will always be with us," said Kunc, who came to this realization while pursuing his bachelor's degree in humanities. "I also realized that I have the right to be disabled, and I am under no obligation to minimize my disability. That realization shifted my world."
Kunc went on to talk about how working with doctors and rehab to minimize one's disability can even be detrimental to that person in some cases, because it becomes easy for them to feel as though they must better themselves in order to decrease their burden on society.
"That is a serious pitfall in the mindset of a disabled person, because they are not the problem, but they may learn to view themselves that way," said Kunc, returning to the staircase scenario.
He also noted the idea that there may need to be a shift in popular treatment of disabilities like cerebral palsy, based on the science of the situation.
"Cerebral palsy is caused by a neurological complication, meaning it stems from a chemical imbalance in the brain, yet it is treated kinesthetically. When I learned that I thought 'Why is that? Why does the treatment focus largely on physical rehab, when we are dealing with a neurological problem?"
Kunc, a lecturer with the Harvard Graduate School of Education, spoke at JCC as part of the Lenna Visiting Professor series, funded by the Lenna Endowed Visiting Professorship, which is designed to bring distinguished scholars to both JCC and Saint Bonaventure University.
For more information on Kunc and his "Broadreach Training and Resources" program, visit www.normemma.com.