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The Pioneers Podcast is hosted by HeartShare Human Services, a nonprofit supporting and empowering marginalized New Yorkers since 1914.
Today, we are talking to Allan Goldstein. Allan is a senior lecturer at NYU Tandon School of Engineering. He brings together students and people with disabilities to create digital stories that make society care and remember. Allan’s brother, Fred, is a survivor of the notorious Willowbrook State School, and has influenced Allan’s focus on the social barriers to an inclusive society. Allan has been hailed as an innovator by The Chronicle of Higher Education, and recognized in The New York Observer as one of the city’s leading professors. He’s a recipient of the Jacobs Excellence in Education Award and The Martin Luther King Jr. Faculty Award from NYU.
HeartShareNY: Welcome, Allan. So, I want to start off by having you describe the Disability Studies class at NYU Tandon.
Allan Goldstein: Yeah, we started this course because I used to teach writing, and all my assigned readings were disability related. Then, I started having my students visit various agencies that were willing to take the time to speak with the students, so they could get experience with the disability firsthand, and of course, it was a natural involvement to this course. A friend of mine who teaches at Pace, Jim Lawler, was having his students visit people at the agency. So, I just reverse it, or up the game a bit, and I have the people with disabilities come to the college campus to broaden their horizons. We learn by watching. So, I thought, “They’re here. Something’s gonna happen.” They’re doing me the favor because they’re helping teach life with a disability.
HeartShareNY: Can you describe what the focus is for the semester?
Allan Goldstein: The secret answer to “Why this is happening?” is not academic at all. I just wanted to create better citizens. The bottom line though is this increases the typical students’ critical thinking by working with a population he or she doesn’t know, or knows very little about. This course has become one of the three core courses for our new Disability Studies minor, which is across the university. So, it’s one of those minors that connects all of the schools, which is something that (NYU) President Hamilton has been asking for.
HeartShareNY: What is the film project that they work on?
Allan Goldstein: We were talking about the importance of digital stories, and I showed them a bit of Amanda Baggs, who has autism. She made a digital story telling a story first in her own language, and then she does from text to voice type it, and she said, “This is my story and this is my translation of what I just told you.” So the whole point is to get a person’s story. It’s person-centered. Our digital stories get her personal stories out there so that, let’s say, Amanda’s story can be looked at in Ghana. What we’re finding with the HeartShare consultants, is they want to show that they can have a girlfriend, or they want to show that they can apply for a job, or they want to show their family. The original digital stories were just still photos one after another, but today the technology is so simple that you can use your phone, and a student can often do this. They just use their phone for making these digital stories three to five minutes.
HeartShareNY: What is the result for both the students, and for the consultants?
Allan Goldstein: I know it’s cliche, but you do a self-evaluation in the beginning of this type of course, which is “What do you know about disability?” In the end, you do self-reflection, and talk about “What do you know about disability now?” Often you get this comment, “Well, it changed my life.” It really did change their life because now if they see a person with a disability, they see the person, not the chair or not the disability. They understand that we all want work and love. They get it now because they’ve heard about it. They’ve seen the aspirations of their consultants, and so for the students, the world is broadened for them. They’re aware of what they are able to do, and they are aware of what a disabled person is able to do.
HeartShareNY: My impression when HeartShare first started participating was that this was the first time that our program participants had ever experienced a college class. That’s something that a lot of people take for granted. I think this is remarkable that you’re giving people the chance to go to college.
Allan Goldstein: They are coming to college–and they jumped ahead because they’re teaching. So, you just go with the flow, and that’s what they’re doing. You can count on them to be there. I count on their energy and their willingness to hang out, and to listen to other people speaking, and taking in ideas, and collaborating on a project.
HeartShareNY: This class is very innovative in that not a lot of colleges do this. What are some of the challenges you face?
Allan Goldstein: Disability Studies is essentially a cutting-edge genre, discipline. I think as it becomes more and more popular–I’m hoping when it becomes popular–that the administration is interested in experiential teaching. Because it’s the most power-packed for the period of time. When I talk to students they tell me after most classes, after the final paper, final exam, you forget everything, and that’s not so with this type of course. This is lifelong learning.
HeartShareNY: How can colleges go forward with implementing inclusion?
Allan Goldstein: It comes down to the people to acknowledge that there are many people out there living differently. The fact of inclusion, is to say my goal, is we eliminate. We eliminate the term disability as people who have impairments and accommodate the impairment, and the person does what he can do, or she could do. As long as the administration, as long as faculty thinks that way, then any course can be open to a person with an impairment. There are two year programs that we have in Kingsborough, or even Pace has something going on with autism, and the College of Staten Island. So, people with disabilities are already coming on to the campus. Some of the schools that don’t have it, they have to want to. It’s easy to implement.
HeartShareNY: Aside from the university setting, what can our listeners do to create more inclusion in their communities?
Allan Goldstein: It’s funny because, to me, it just seems so natural to just live your life. But, if a person gets on the subway and is walking a little differently, or sounding a little different, it’s okay to talk about it. It’s okay to talk about disability. I think that’s the big problem. People don’t want to. People, I think, from what I observe, think it’s something to be ashamed of. We just gotta twist it. Why be ashamed? It’s just the person. I see a person whose mobile and doing what he wants to do, and that’s something to celebrate. So, how do people draw more inclusion? To not be afraid of people who are different.
HeartShareNY: For someone from another university or anyone who’s interested in your ideas, how can they get in touch with you?
Allan Goldstein: They should reach out to me here. I’m more than happy to share my experience, and to advise, and to encourage, and to point out that, yeah, it’s a lot more work, but the payback is so much more than a regular class.