Foundation research

Blindness Foundation research director looks back on years of activism | Community

In April 2022, Dr. Arielle Silverman was appointed Director of Research at the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB). She joined AFB in September 2021 as a Research Specialist after having been an independent entrepreneur contributing to several research projects for the foundation.

Silverman, who has been blind all his life, is an author and activist. She founded a consultancy in 2016, Disability Wisdom, which provides research-based services such as trainings to help foster understanding towards people with disabilities.

Silverman graduated summa cum laude from Barrett Honors College at Arizona State University and received her Ph.D. in social psychology from the University of Colorado at Boulder (where she met her husband) in 2014. In 2016, she completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Washington School of Medicine. During her postdoctoral fellowship, as she began to look for employment, she began to receive requests for disability training services from different people, including many from the Jewish community in Arizona where she grew up and where his parents live, including the Jewish Family and Children’s Service in Phoenix.

“I was motivated by some of the thesis work I did that disability simulations were problematic. And so people started wanting to talk to me about what we were doing instead of simulating disability. Silverman said. “I started doing these courses and had a lot of fun developing and delivering them. I realized I didn’t want to stay in academia and I liked the idea of ​​working for different customers and to make a little impact in a bunch of different places. That was my main focus for five years and I had a lot of great customers and I was able to do a lot of cool work and I hope that has makes a difference.

The Disability Wisdom website is still active and she still runs the Disability Wisdom discussion group on Facebook which has 4,000 members. Still, she focused on promotional activities for her book, “Just Human: The Quest for Disability Wisdom, Respect, and Inclusion.” “So instead of consulting, there’s a lot of book presentations and book clubs and things like that,” she said.

Silverman’s book “Just Human: The Quest for Disability Wisdom, Respect, and Inclusion.”

“Just Human” is a personal memoir, but it goes beyond describing his life by including what research has to say or what other people with disabilities have to say about particular topics.

“There’s a call to action throughout the process,” Silverman said. “It culminates in the final chapters; I’m done sharing my story and talking more about my dreams for the future and what inclusion might look like in the future.

Silverman explains that the final chapter of the book goes through the five-step model of inclusion. It’s something she came up with that seems to resonate with people. She explains that the first stage is that of negative feelings towards people with disabilities (disgust, fear, avoidance), neutral feelings (not accommodating, but also not rejecting), up to the “helping stage”, where people treat people with disabilities as heroes or sources of inspiration. The figures. Although this is well intentioned, there is still a hidden layer of ableism because people with disabilities are not treated equally.

“The hope is that people will move past that and into stage four, which I call ‘the equality stage,’ where people rightfully believe in equality for people with disabilities,” Silverman shared. “The final step is what I call ‘disability justice’, and it’s a common term that many disability and intersectional activists use. It’s dreaming of a world where everyone equally belongs and has full access. The fifth stage is not necessarily a reality that we will ever see in its entirety, but we can always get closer to it.

Silverman grew up going to Temple Chai where her mother, Sharona Silverman, founded the Shalom Center in 1996 and still works as a retired volunteer. Silverman became a bat mitzvah, traveled to Israel with her family, and took a Birthright trip to college.

She said social justice and inclusion are extremely important to Jews and she has enjoyed speaking to many Jewish organizations. “I think when you have two minority identities, it’s really easy to feel a little bit competitive,” Silverman said. “It’s hard to feel really assertive in both at the same time. That’s why I love doing inclusion work.

Silverman shared that while she had different experiences than her sighted peers, she had the same concerns, joys, and sorrows as any other child. She wants people to read her book and realize that just because she’s blind doesn’t mean she really isn’t that different from other people.

“I want people to examine their assumptions. The other theme that runs through the entire book is love, respect, and collaboration,” Silverman said. “There is a chapter that does not talk about blindness at all. It’s about the impact of having someone stand up for you against bullying. You don’t need a whole bunch of people defending you – just one person.

Silverman said that when describing the book, she was thinking about the tension between acceptance and change. “On the one hand, I’m telling people to accept themselves exactly the way they are, differences and all, and on the other hand, I’m saying, don’t just sit there and let the status quo happen.” she declared. . “You have to help make a difference and make the world a better place. We need peace. We have to get along and accept each other, and then we also have to figure out what’s not working and how to change. jn

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