Monday, April 5, 2010

Profile: Bethany Stevens, Disability rights activist

Posted By on Mon, Apr 5, 2010 at 9:00 PM

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Bethany Stevens, who holds both a law and sexuality studies degree and works at Georgia State University’s Center for Leadership in Disability, recently helped organize the Reel to Real Disability Film Fest to better portray the realities of disabled people.

When did you first become involved in disability rights activism?

I lost somebody that I loved to suicide. Before he committed suicide, he told me that the reason he was feeling so tired was that he couldn’t achieve erections because he had a spinal cord injury. I also hosted a conference about disability and sexuality while I was in law school, and that [experience] really shifted my focus to disability and sexuality.

Tell us about the film festival.

I’ve selected films that focus on people with disabilities played by actual people with disabilities. We’re moving away from things like My Left Foot with Daniel Day-Lewis, when people get Oscars when they play people who are disabled. Similarly, if they act like they’re gay — like with Milk. That’s just annoying. There are actors who are disabled and gay Why can’t they be playing those parts? Shouldn’t they have visibility? Shouldn’t they have a presence in media?

Why do you think so few people, both disabled and nondisabled, have neglected to have meaningful conversations about disability?

I think part of it is that people don’t want to be disabled. I think that my visual presence — disabled people’s visual presence — frightens nondisabled people because it’s a slippery category. People can slide into it with that freak accident. I also think that historically we’ve been excluded, and we’ve been institutionalized. We’ve just now been coming out. We’re just now being able to physically access places.

What do you see for yourself in the future?

I want to be a scholar-activist forever. I want to get into media production. I want to start making films and short documentaries. I want people to pay me to speak all over the world. I have a book that I need to publish. I’m definitely going to be a die-hard disability activist until I die.

(Photo by Joeff Davis)

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