Voices from the Disability Community: Arielle Silverman

Arielle Silverman: photo of woman with brown hair and pale skin looking into the camera and softly smiling

Getting to Know You

  1. Your name: Arielle Silverman
  2. What’s your connection with disability? I have been blind since birth.
  3. Star Trek or Star Wars? neither 
  4. If you could live in any other country for 2 years, where would you go? Probably Australia, I liked living there during college.
  5. 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…

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

About Disability

  • 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.

 

Arielle Silverman: photo of woman with brown hair and pale skin looking into the camera and softly smilingand…

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