Friday, November 14, 2008

'This is not a death sentence'

That's the title of this article about disability scholar and activist Chris Bell which appeared in Syracus University's student newspaper, the Daily Orange. Chris, who is presently a post-doctoral researcher at Syracuse University (where I'm also working), works in the area of HIV/AIDS and disability and the intersections of race, disability, sexuality and gender. He will be teaching a graduate seminar on HIV/AIDS and disability studies in American culture next semester. Here is an excerpt:

Bell woke up one morning in January 2002 the same way he had every other day since his diagnosis in 1997 - HIV positive and unashamed of it. But on that day, Bell discovered HIV/AIDS was defined as a legal disability, and Bell became a legally disabled person.

Bell received a flyer for a queer disability conference in San Francisco discussing the role of HIV/AIDS in the realm of legal disability, which sparked his interest in the cause. Since then, Bell has dedicated his life to studying HIV/AIDS for disabled persons in legal situations. "That was my entrance to work on disability as an identity, to disability studies and to disability activism," Bell said. "It was a life-changing experience and one of the best decisions I ever made."

Steven Taylor, centennial professor of disability studies at SU and Bell's boss, recruited Bell after working with him on Board of the Society of Disability Studies in 2006 at Towson University. "When I first met him, he impressed me as an up-and-coming scholar in disability studies," Taylor said. "When new postdoctoral fellowships became available at the Center on Human Policy, Law and Disability Studies, I contacted Chris and strongly encouraged him to apply."

Taylor described Bell as a "very engaging person," noting that he has yet to have a conversation with Bell that wasn't "an interesting and enjoyable discussion."

Taylor believes Bell is beyond being hurt by the ignorance and prejudices surround HIV/AIDS, and that Bell's knowledge and dedication is an example of the kind of professors SU should recruit.

"Chris is committed to social justice," Taylor said. "He recognizes the parallels between what people with disabilities have faced in society and the discrimination and marginalization members of other groups have experienced based on race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality."