Photo courtesy courts.mi.gov
Photo courtesy courts.mi.gov
Photo courtesy courts.mi.gov

BY BROOKELYNN RUGGIRELLO, Student Life Editor

On Thursday, Oct. 22 the Ann Arbor campus welcomed Michigan Supreme Court Justice Richard Bernstein to speak on behalf of Disability Awareness Month. Blind since birth, Bernstein spoke about the challenges of disabled people overcoming stereotypes and stigma. The event was streamed to the Dearborn campus via teleconference.

Bernstein stated that having a disability instills a greater sense of empathy within people.

“It [stigma] affects how we see ourselves,” Bernstein said. “It affects how we relate to other people. And what I can tell you is that people who have experience with stereotypes — those people who know the feeling of stigmatization — I would venture are quite often the people who have the life experience that comes with them that gives them a better understanding, a better appreciation of the world that we live in and the impact that people can ultimately have.”

Being stigmatized their whole lives causes disabled persons to have an “enhanced life experience,” Bernstein said.

“They are often the people who don’t have the easy life, who face a challenge, and difficulty and hardships. But those are the people who understand their mission. Those are the people who understand their purpose. Those are the people who understand why they are created and what they are sent here today.”

For Bernstein, this outlook on life breeds greatness.

“I think the key to looking at people with disabilities is: don’t look at us as people who struggle. Don’t look at us as people who are suffering. It’s that struggle that makes us who we are. It’s that struggle that makes us great. It’s that struggle that makes us powerful. It’s that struggle that allows for us to do the work that needs to be done.”

Bernstein also said that having to endure stereotypes forces disabled persons to develop a sense of resiliency.

“We’re gonna embrace the challenge. We’re gonna rise to the occasion. If you wanna stigmatize us, then go ahead — try to stigmatize us. But what you’ll come to find is that when we are in your offices, when we are in your schools, when we around, we have this sense of resilience.”

Despite the tendency of people to perceive disabled people based on their physical limitations, Bernstein highlighted the strength of the human soul.

“It’s not the body that matters,” Bernstein said. “It’s the soul that gives us our identity. It is the soul that gives us our power. It is the soul that gives us our strength. So if you want to stereotype us and if you want to use stigma, those stereotypes and those stigmas can only go to the body. But they can never penetrate the soul. Because our souls know a greater strength. Our souls know a greater power. Our souls know a greater connection because we have to work with the limitations of the body but it is the souls that allow for us to gather our purpose, to understand our mission, and to have a tremendous connection with our fellow brothers and sisters.”