Getting to Know You
- Your name: Arielle Silverman
- What’s your connection with disability? I have been blind since birth.
- Star Trek or Star Wars? neither
- If you could live in any other country for 2 years, where would you go? Probably Australia, I liked living there during college.
- What dish would your bring to our community picnic potluck? Homemade potato salad or maybe a homemade chocolate cheesecake.
Now That We’ve Been Introduced…
- What do you do:
I’m a disabilities research and training consultant.
I have my own company, Disability Wisdom Consulting, where I work with universities and companies to help with disability-related research, explaining research to non-researchers, and training students and service providers about disability etiquette and inclusion.
2. How did you come to doing what you do? How has your career trajectory flowed?
I started getting involved with disability advocacy when I was a freshman in college and joined the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). That same year, I took a course on social psychology, and I learned about how stereotyping and discrimination underlie many social problems. I wanted to understand stereotyping and discrimination against disabled people in a scientific way so that I could eventually find solutions.
After graduating from Arizona State University, I got a doctorate in social psychology from the University of Colorado Boulder, and then did a two-year research fellowship in rehabilitation medicine from the University of Washington. I had originally toyed with the idea of becoming a psychology professor, and I applied for a handful of faculty jobs, but I was conflicted because what I really love most is bringing research to non-researchers. I hated the idea of doing an extended research project with results that would only be viewed by other professors.
During my research fellowship I learned how to “translate” research so that consumers, service providers, and policymakers can fully access it. I also started getting offered some gigs on the side to train nonprofit staff about disability inclusion, which I loved doing. Around the ending of my research fellowship, my husband was offered a federal research job, so we moved to the Washington, DC area where I launched Disability Wisdom Consulting as a full-time venture.
At this point, the business is a simple one-person entity and I have a handful of clients, but it’s very rewarding work and I enjoy the opportunity to connect with so many like-minded people.
- Where would you like to see yourself in 5 years?
I am considering the idea of converting Disability Wisdom into a nonprofit organization that provides disability training directed completely by disabled people, and possibly does some research as well. I am also passionate about bringing people with disabilities together in real and virtual forums to support each other, and mentoring disabled people who want to become researchers. I have already created an online discussion forum on Facebook, the Disability Wisdom Discussion Group, where disabled people around the world support each other. I hope to grow that group and create other forums for disabled people to connect across barriers.
- Not to be morbid, but what do you want people to remember about you when you’ve gone?
I want to be remembered as an authentic, straightforward person, and someone who was committed to giving everyone a fair opportunity.
- Who or what inspires you?
I am inspired by innovators and problem solvers, such as Louis Braille, who invented the braille code as a teenager because he wanted to find a way to read and write. I am also inspired by those with the courage to challenge long-held social inequalities despite the very real consequences of speaking out.
- If you could say something to yourself in the past – that is, the you that was really struggling with something related to disability – what would you say?
Although you feel like the only person going through this, you aren’t. All over the world there are other people with disabilities who are navigating a world not built for them. When people leave you out or patronize you because of your disability, it doesn’t mean you are actually inferior; it is a sign of their own lack of imagination. And, there are nondisabled people who can see you as an equal; you just have to find them.
- What do you like about your particular disability?
I like how my blindness forces me to be creative and come up with my own solutions to problems instead of just doing what I am told to do. For example, I can’t read the package directions on food packages, so I have to come up with my own way of preparing the food. When I am walking around town, I can’t just mindlessly follow signs, so instead I get to really tune in to what is around me, and I might find some interesting things on the way to my destination.
- Any one thing that you wish people would *get* about disability?
Most of the time, a disability only affects one aspect of a person’s life, not their whole existence or personality. Blindness is an important part of who I am, but it doesn’t limit my ability to live a full life.
- What single piece of technology makes your life easier?
I use screen-reading software on my computer.
Without it, I wouldn’t be able to do my job, which is almost entirely on the computer, and I wouldn’t be able to communicate with my extended disabled family around the world.