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The Ability Exchange, a documentary featuring the inclusion of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in a class at NYU Tandon School of Engineering, was screened at the school on Wednesday, November 30.
The Disabilities Studies course, taught by NYU Tandon instructor Allan Goldstein, brings together NYU students and people with disabilities as consultants. The students are grouped into teams with a consultant to create a video project, offering insight into what it’s like to live with a disability.
“Throughout the university, we are thrilled about this inclusive endeavor and especially, a focus on socially responsive technology that’s for all people,” shared NYU Tandon Dean Katepalli Sreenivasan prior to the screening.
The documentary, created by filmmaker and NYU alum Bing Wang, featured those projects, as well as the discovery process in getting to know each other. Some of the students had no prior experience interacting with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, while others had a sibling or family member.
During the event’s Q&A session, director Bing Wang expressed his intent on showing that initial awkwardness between the students and those with disabilities. “We can use this film to talk about larger disability issues and minority discourse in this country, which often makes us uncomfortable,” he noted.
The class typically is a transformative experience on both ends. People with disabilities may have their first opportunity to experience higher education. Student learned the struggles of living with a disability, as well as their responsibility as engineers. “This course changed my life. I’m not from the U.S., but it helped me see how other people live. Disability is treated differently in each country. I’ve seen that people with disabilities, unfortunately, are at the bottom of our minorities,” one student remarked.
“We’re trying to make better citizens. The impairment is not the disability, but that it’s not being accommodated. The future of this school is STEM with empathy,” explained Goldstein. Allan first launched the course in partnership with United Cerebral Palsy and then, HeartShare Human Services. Goldstein has deep empathy for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, as his brother Fred lived at Willowbrook State School for sixteen years before its closing.
Commissioner for the NYC Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD) Victor Calise participated in the session. “Everyone is a person. We need to build a culture that understands and is forward-thinking. People do not need to be fixed. It is their environments that are disabling,” Calise added.
Learn more about the Ability Exchange here.