Disability justice advocate comes to UB

Mia Mingus speaks on ableism


Sexism and racism are prominent topics of discussion on campuses throughout the United States.

But what about ableism?

Mia Mingus, an advocate for disability justice and awareness, spoke to more than 200 students on Tuesday night at her event Beyond Access: an Introduction to Disability Justice. Mingus, who is disabled because of a weakened right leg, became an advocate for disability justice and awareness after attending many social justice events and realizing that there were never any advocates for disability justice in attendance.

“What I’ve found across the board is that most people don’t know what ableism is,” Mingus said. “People know what racism is, what sexism is … but when you ask them about ableism, they have no idea.”

The event was part of a three-part series Mingus hosted in the Buffalo area this week. The other two events were: Disability Justice: Theory and Practice and Intersectionality and Sexual Violence.

Beyond Access was held in the Student Union Theater. The Disability Justice lecture was held off campus at the Museum of disABILITY History and the Intersectionality lecture was also held off campus at The Foundry on Elmwood.

Mingus began the event by defining what having a disability means.

“A disability is any ability, impairment or body that is or is perceived as being outside of what our society defines as normal or able,” Mingus said.

She went on to discuss ableism, which works in the same way sexism works against women at the benefit of men. Ableism is a system of oppression that works against disabled people at the benefit of those who are not disabled. Mingus believes that ableism is not unique to Western culture – it affects the whole world.

She was tired of feeling like there was no one to speak for the disabled, so she became an advocate herself.

Wellness and Education Services along with Campus Living and The Office of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion sponsored Mingus’s trip to UB. Peter Smith, the assistant director of college housing at UB, said Campus Living was involved in the event because it benefits the paraprofessional staff of UB.

“Where it benefits us is that we do what we call ETS, or extended training series, which are development sessions for our paraprofessional staff—the [resident advisers, academic advisers and community assistants]. That’s 230 staff members that we have,” Smith said.

Campus Living has its staff attend at least one campus event per semester. This semester, they chose Mingus’s event. According to Smith, 200 staff members from Campus Living, including resident advisers, were required to go to the event. But just because they were required to go to the event doesn’t mean that it wasn’t beneficial.

Several students took the time to stay after the event, thanking Mingus for her time and telling her that the information she provided them with helped open their eyes to the injustices that disabled people face every day.

While some students were required to show up, others came to the event for more personal reasons.

Alex, a senior biomedical engineering major who did not want his last name released because of his disabilities, showed up to the event because he’s a fan of Mia Mingus. He was interested in the event because the topic of conversation is personal to him.

“I myself am disabled. I have different mental disabilities. But, you know, I also face a physical disability . . . due to being asthmatic. But I thought this presentation provided a really good framework for understanding disabilities,” Alex said.

For those interested in getting more involved with the fight against ableism, there is a Disability Action Committee at UB. Information about the committee is available through Wellness Education Services.

John Jacobs is a features staff writer. Features desk can be reached at features@ubspectrum.com.