Disabilities are more visible and accepted than ever today, but they can also be invisible and stigmatized. 

Because of this historic stigmatization, the Fall 2020 Honors Colloquium will address the topic of Challenging Expectations: Disability in the 21st Century.

The Honors Colloquium, which is in its 57th year, is overseen by Lynne Derbyshire, director of the University of Rhode Island’s Honors Program. The topic was proposed by Annette Bourbonniere, Professor Tiffani Kisler, and Professor Anita Jackson.

Though most people know the Honors Colloquium as a weekly lecture series, it is also a class that students who are enrolled in the Honors Program are required to take. Students in this class attend the large lectures each week as well as a smaller, more informal class. 

The public Tuesday night lectures are popular among students and locals alike.

“When we’re reviewing proposals, we’re also looking at how [this fits] into our overall curriculum and if [it] will appeal to students,” Derbyshire said. “Our public audiences [are] fascinating, I always say there are people in Rhode Island and beyond who have Tuesday nights in the fall on their calendars in perpetuity, and it doesn’t matter what we choose.”

Derbyshire oversees the implementation of the Colloquium, but the organizers are the ones who make many of the decisions.

Planning the Colloquium is a big undertaking; Derbyshire said that past Colloquium planners have compared it to planning a different wedding each week. Kisler said that the idea for the Colloquium starts with one person but needs a whole team to coordinate. 

According to Kisler, the professors prepared for about two years before they proposed the topic to Derbyshire. Between booking and proposing an overall topic, booking speakers, choosing topics for each lecture and more the team has to coordinate the Colloquium.

The organizers of the event are in different disciplines, but they all deal with disabilities, whether mental or physical. Kisler said that they hope to show the ability of people with disabilities instead of showing how to help people with disabilities.

According to Kisler, disability is defined by your environment. The environment around disabled people is what leads to the challenges disabled people may face. Kisler said that she hopes to challenge the ideas of disability through this colloquium.

“The biggest thing we want people to take away is for people to challenge their views of disability,” Kisler said. “We want to change the lens that we understand disability through.”

Things are changing for people with disabilities, according to Kisler. Today there are many innovations that allow people who are disabled to function, such as functional prosthetic limbs. These developments will change how we look at disabilities, according to Kisler.

Topics for the Colloquium are interdisciplinary and look at disabilities from different lenses. The topics include disability in technology, sports, sexuality and more.