Celebrating the conclusion of the successful Living Disabilities Week, CAIM hosted animal welfare and disability activist Dr. Temple Grandin as a convocation speaker over a recorded interview. Dr. Temple Grandin is currently a professor at Colorado State University and is known for her groundbreaking work in reducing animal cruelty in livestock raising practices, particularly cattle. She was also one of the first to shed light on the autism experience and pave the way for greater understanding of autism and a broadening of how autism is defined.
During the interview, Grandin emphasized the importance of shared interests and finding a sense of community through these interests. She also emphasized the importance of mentors and recalled their pivotal role in her journey. The opportunities they gave her through her drawings paved the way for her future jobs. For instance, her experiences writing an article for a cattle magazine and selling a drawing led to a successful career in designing livestock handling equipment and animal welfare research and advocacy. While describing her experiences, she quoted Stephen Hawking: “Your disability does not prevent you from doing things well.” Grandin believes in a “one successful thing at a time” approach when it comes to helping people with disabilities achieve their goals, emphasizing not only the importance of empowerment, but of creating practical, relevant job placement opportunities and accommodations. Her main piece of advice to students was to ask for accommodations, citing not asking for help when needed as one of student’s most futile, yet preventable downfalls. Requests for accommodations should be sensible and specific, according to Grandin.
While internships are already heavily emphasized not only at Gordon but in higher education, they are particularly important for students with disabilities. As Grandin emphasized, career relevant internships, preferably paid, are just as needed, in order to get students to reach their goal of securing a job post-graduation. Exposure is also essential in helping students figure out what they’re good at, which can enable people to find careers beyond entry-level jobs, such as jobs in trades.
Grandin directed her comments to educators as well, emphasizing the importance of following up with students and providing intentional accommodations to students with disabilities. Beyond physical disabilities, there are many hidden disabilities that are not universally understood or accommodated, such as sensitivity to light or sound and people who have suffered from head injuries. She also referenced mental illness as a sort of disability, which can be as disruptive as those typically classified as disabilities, but often aren’t granted accommodations.
There are also privacy concerns when it comes to hidden disabilities and how much professors should know. Yet, without a certain understanding of a disability and a specific accommodation request, it is often difficult to effectively help students in the classroom. For instance, students with autism struggle with ambiguity and need clear goals to follow. Accommodations can be as simple as providing extended test-taking—which ASC currently provides. There are also lesser known, but equally effective accommodations, such as taking breaks or printing on tan paper to prevent print-jiggling, practices that Grandin implemented for some of her students. The student speakers themselves emphasized the importance of ASC on campus for students with and without disabilities and encouraged students to go if they need it. Accessibility extends outside of the classroom, as Grandin said, and there is still much to be done in order to make websites more accessible.
The interview concluded with a brief discussion of the overgeneralization of disabilities and the importance of affirming the different, greater abilities of people affected by disability. Convocation began with student Caleb Railsback (’25) speaking about his experience with legal blindness and ended with closing remarks from CAIM co-president Mikayla Martin, who spoke of her experiences with bilateral hip dysplasia. Mikayla thanked the team along with ASC and expressed appreciation for the weeklong celebration and advocacy of Gordon’s disability community. “There is life in disability.”
Living Disability Week had an abundance of positive feedback from campus. Ella Postuma (’25) said, “It was cool to have an insight into the wonderful things the CAIM community at Gordon is doing. I really enjoyed hearing some of the student’s stories and how they overcame hardships of their disability. I also learned a lot from the interview with Temple Grandin.”
Co-president of CAIM Jackson Haskell said, “I think the interview between Mikayla Martin, Sophia Rowe and Dr. Temple Grandin was really wonderful, as people may have not heard who she is before. Caleb, myself, and Mikayla did a great job talking about CAIM’s Living Disability Week, and this convo was a great capstone to this awesome week.”
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