I was very excited for this day since I do not know a lot about disability rights. The first speaker that came was Gijs Bruggeman. He is deaf-blind. In order to communicate with us he brought two people with him. When Gijs was speaking in sign language, someone would translate that into English. When we would ask questions to Gijs, the translator would translate that into sign language. Someone else would hold Gijs hand and repeat the sign language. Sometimes to make it more clear the other translator would write on his back.
Gijs started by telling about his early life. He has the syndrome of Usher. Which means that he was born deaf and by the age of nine almost completely blind. He told us about Helen Keller (1880-1969), she was the pioneer of awareness about Deaf-Blind. She changed a lot in the world but especially in the US for Deaf-Blind people.
Gijs started at a special high school but since the level of education was very bad at that school and they actually forbid him to use sign language he went to a “normal” high school. They would forbid sign language at the special school because otherwise he would never learn to communicate with “normal” people. After he visited a high school in the Netherlands there were not really any options in the Netherlands to study. Therefore, he went to the US to study at Gallaudet university. This is the only Deaf university in the world. All the teachers and students at this high school use sign language. Gijs really enjoys being in the US because the US has way better services for deaf-blind people. But after his study he did return to the Netherlands to work on the services in the Netherlands.
Since Gijs returned to the Netherlands he has been an activist on rights for the Deaf-Blind. He became a board member of the SWDA Foundation for the Welfare of Deaf People. With this foundation he fights for equal rights for Deaf-(blind) people. Gijs also married last year in the Netherlands and he would like his children to learn both sign and the Dutch language.
The second speaker that came was Pauline Gransier, a disability rights activist. The last years she mostly worked at the ratification of the UN convention of the rights on disabilities. She is a very passionate speaker. She mostly talked about the difficulties she is facing because she is sitting in a wheelchair. Examples of that are that a lot of public transports is refusing on taking her with them. The same with a lot of university buildings, they have no special doors etc. for wheelchairs. This makes that disabled people face a lot of difficulties in their daily life. Therefore, Pauline started the campaign called “Wij staan op”, “We stand up”. They tried to influence the politics in such a way that every building in 2017 should be wheelchair proof. It passed in the first and second chamber so hopefully from next year on Pauline and everyone else having a disability will face less discrimination because of their disability. And Pauline will of course keep on fighting for her rights.
The last speaker that came was Mounir Samuel (Egyptian-Dutch political scientist, journalist and author). He was very direct and did not prepare a speech or powerpoint which was good for the change. He started talking about privileged and unprivileged things you can have. So white would be privileged and black unprivileged. Or hetero sexual as privileged and gay as unprivileged. He would put all those stereotypes against each other and confronted us with the fact that we were either quite privileged especially the white male privileged or very unprivileged. He would link that to the fact that we always think in differences instead of similarities. If we would look for a similarity when we see or meet someone instead of seeing that someone has a different skin colour, has a disability etc. look for similarities. Since this lecture, when I am on the train or anywhere I would try to look for similarities with the person I meet instead of differences.