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January 20, 2010 - Image 9

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 2010-01-20

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8B The Statement / Wednesday January 20, 2010


Ileft Copenhagen the day before
President Barack Obama arrived on
his white horse to save the United
Nations climate talks - or so the Amer-
itan media would paint the scene. As I
boarded my flight, however, I couldn't
help feeling disenchanted by what I'd
experienced over the last nine days.
Unlike many of the reporters
reworking the "Yes We Can" slogan
to fit the climate mantra, I had stood
alongside more than 200 NGO mem-
bers denied access to the Bella Center,
home of the two-week-long COP15
U.N. Climate Change Conference, as
those with press badges slid through
I marched through the city streets
with 50,000 peaceful climate protest-
ers as Western journalists skewed our
positive message by playing up police
arrests to sell sensational headlines.
I saw no arrests during my five-hour,
stx-kilometer walk.
I saw the pallid looks on the faces
of those who had come from the far
reaches of the world - from small
island nations in the South Pacific to
the Andean peaks to the sub-Saharan
plains - as the African nations walked
than $100 out of her own pocket each
month for medication.
- But what helps her get through her
illness is her support group, started
by her University Hospital doctor
several years ago.
"They are so wonderful," Felder
said. "We meet once a month and
it's professors and students and grad
students and my doctor from the Uni-
versity. It's a great way to say, 'Hey
I'm having these issues with sleep, is
anybody else having these issues? Is
it normal?"'
The stigma that so often accompa-
nies a disability is a major reason
why so many students with invis-
ible disabilities make the decision not
to disclose their limitations to the
majority of their peers, believing that
as soon as people are aware that they
suffer from something out of the ordi-
nary, they will be treated differently
or judged.

out of the negotiations during the sec-
ond week.
The energy of more than 35,000
global citizens who had descended
upon the Bella Center reached its cli-
max in the last few days and was mak-
ing a sharp descent into anguish and
despair. The buzz from the conference
center had changed from the glossy-
eyed hope of the week before as reality
sank in.
Though there were still two days
of negotiations left, as I flew out of
Copenhagen I knew the talks had
The governments would come up
with something, but nothing that
would actually hold anyone liable if
they were to continue emitting vast
amounts of greenhouse gases into the
atmosphere -especially not big pow-
erhouse carbon producing countries
like the United States or China.
I had little time to ponder the past
week's events before I noticed that
the man placing his luggage in the
compartment above my head was still
wearing his COP15 pass. I reached
inside my coat for the lanyard still
draped around my neck and flashed it
Though many of these students
aren't visibly different from the
people they pass on the street, their
disabilities may require actions or
behaviors that seem strange when
unexplained, which often leads other
students to judge them unfairly.
Lembryk, for example, must carry
an umbrella and wear sunglasses and
a scarf when it's sunny due to the
severe photosensitivity she has as a
result of her lupus.
"It's annoying. I wish I could just
tell people, 'Hey, you know, there's
a reason that I do this. Do you think
that a sane person would be carrying
an umbrella when it's 70 degrees out-
side and beautiful?'" she said.
Felder, who is fairly upfront about
her Crohn's disease, says that despite
her attempts to inform her classmates
about her disability, she has received
less-then-ideal reactions as some-
times, students "literally scoot their
chairs away" when she talks about
the disease in class.
There is also, at times, the issue
of other students thinking accom-

wordlessly at Mr. Charles T. O. King
III, a Liberian delegate, who returned
my gesture with a smile.
"You must be proud of what your
country has done here," he said to me.
Thinking he was being sarcastic, I
laughed. Confused at my gesture, he
prodded me again.
"I left Copenhagen the dc
before Obama arrived on
white horse to save the U
climate talks."
"No, actually," I responded, frown-
ing once I realized he was serious. "I'm
not pleased."
King was relentless in his pursuit of
the reason for my discontent. I turned
my attention to the flight attendant
demonstrating oxygen masks in a
failed attempt to avoid King's incredu-
lous gaze.
I told King how disheartened I had
become when I heard that his country-
men had walked out of the negotiating
modations means disabled students
are getting "special treatment." For
example, LSA sophomore Sara Rabi-
nowe, who was diagnosed with two
learning disabilities in the begin-
ning of elementary school, said her
classmates often judge her for getting
accommodations because they don't
understand how difficult it is to live
with her disability.
"I've had a little bit here of'she gets
special treatment, she gets this,' the
sort of jealousy, almost, because they
don'tunderstand how hard it is to live
with this," Rabinowe said.
"Just from them not understand-
ing that with every accommodation
comes a million other things I do on
my own in order to make that accom-
modation so minor actually when you
look at the way my life works."
Though some members of the dis-
abled community would like the
University to take a larger role in
advocating for and raising awareness
of disabilities on campus, SSWD "acts
under a philosophy of self-advocacy,"

talks. I explainedthat I didn't think the
United States had come in with a pro-
gressive enough plan. I was angered
that the European Union and other
developed nations had only offered $10
billion dollars to be split between all of
the developingnations of the world.
As I helped him change the SIM
card in his cell phone back to his Libe-
rian carrier, King told me of a Dutch
girl he had met who reminded him of
his own daughter. While he was lost
in the city center, she had bought him
a coffee and patiently given him direc-
"Young people today are so helpful,"
he said, smiling at meas I handed back
his phone. "They are so knowledge-
able about these kinds
of things - things that
ay do not come so natu-
. hs rally to my generation,
his sometimes stuck in our
N old-fashioned ways."
King explained
that he was not pres-
ent when the African
nations walked out of
the talks, although he wishes he had
been. He would have liked to know
what, exactly, was said to warrant such
decisive, drastic action that could only
hinder further progress.
When I scoffed at the idea of any-
thing concrete being signed within the
next two days, he told me that he was
absolutely certain something would be
signed, and even if it weren't as pro-
gressive as it should be, it would be a
step in the right direction.
Segal said.
"In other words, part of what we're
trying to do is turn people into young,
responsible, independent adults, and
part of the way of doing that is mak-
ing people advocate for themselves,"
Segal said.
Part of this notion of self-advocacy
includes changing the campus's per-
ception of the disabled community
without the University's help. For
example, if individuals want peer
mentors or support groups, it's their
responsibility to make that hap-
pen. Likewise, if individuals sense a
stigma associated with disabilities
on campus, the disabled community
must find a voice within itself to raise
awareness of disability issues rather
than rely on the University to make
this change for them.
"There's a lot of people who have
very mixed feelings about that,"
Segal said. "Some are really eager to
take that on and thrive on the respon-
sibility and independence, and they
really grow. Others are really sort of
resistant to it and really wish that we

He assured me that because of the
networking he and other delegates
were able to do at COP15, techno-
logical advances in the pursuit of cut-
ting carbon emissions would soon be
implemented in many Liberian homes,
thanks in part to the $10 billion that
was promised.
This man from one of the countries
that had walked out of negotiations
days before was able to reflect posi-
tively on the conference as he returned
As I listened to King stress the
importance of the education of his
countrymen in the fight against cli-
mate change, I began to feel ashamed
of myself. What was my pessimism
contributing to the argument? Abso-
lutely nothing.
If I and the other 11 University stu-
dents who attended the conference
- or for that matter the 35,000 from
around the world - returned home
skeptical, cynical and bitter, what good
would that do for those who looked to
us for insight into what had taken place
and where to go with future endeav-
I felt my spirits lifta little as we flew
above the gray clouds and gloom that
had hung over Copenhagen.
"I do not worry," King went on,
"because I am confident that you
young people will come up with a solu-
tion. Because you must, and you know
you must." U
- Aubrey Ann Parker is
an Engineering senior.
would do more for them."
Dembo would be an example of the
former. He has already taken steps to
catalyze a more open discussion of
disabilities on campus through Inter-
group Relations, which he says helps
"create a dialogue of people with dif-
ferent ability identities."
"Because even in academia, a dis-
ability is considered a minority or a
group that is oppressed, but there is
not a lot done to discuss the issue,"
Dembo said. "On this campus, there's
a lot done discussing race; there's a
lot done discussing sexual orienta-
tion and attractionality, religion. But
there's not a lot discussing ability.
And that's something I'm trying to
bring some discussion.
"This is an issue that affects every-
body, no matter your disability status,
and I think everybody needs to get
involved in first, recognizing what
problems exist," Dembo said. "But
there needs tobe something that gets
everybody together, not to unify peo-
ple for support, but to make this orga-

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