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Berberi advocates for disability awareness

Tammy Berberi, associate professor of French and director of the Honors Program at the University of Minnesota, Morris.

MORRIS — Tammy Berberi, associate professor of French and director of the Honors Program, has garnered a lot of media attention recently for her work with the Society for Disability Studies (SDS). As president of the organization, Berberi is working to advance its mission of recognizing disability as a complex and valuable aspect of human experience.

According to Berberi, the goal of disability studies is to expand and complicate a medical notion of disability and to look at physical and attitudinal barriers faced by people with impairments. It aims to redefine the notion of disability as an identity category that is both fluid and universal.

Berberi is involved in a variety of advocacy activities these days. She is serving on the Coordinating Council for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Legacy Project as it prepares for the 25th anniversary of the ADA and working with thousands of concerned citizens to encourage ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Berberi believes that in order to enact the changes many in the disability community hope to see at home and abroad, this national work is necessary. She feels that, despite progress, American society continues to view disability as a special-interest issue impacting only a small population. The collective efforts of Berberi, SDS, and others challenge this kind of thinking by “moving disability from the private sphere to an issue of common public cause.”

“We all care about someone with a disability,” she said. “Yet many people don’t understand that disability rights are simply human rights.”

Berberi is heartened by the headway made in Minnesota and on the Morris campus. She commends the state for its “terrific record on community integration and grassroots advocacy on disability issues” and is proud to be a Morris faculty member.

“I can’t imagine something better suited to my own political and intellectual investments,” she says. “As a public institution we have a responsibility to challenge oppressive paradigms, including those that hamper the full participation of people with disabilities.”

Berberi looks forward to bringing the campus’s sustainability mission to her latest project: SDS’s upcoming annual meeting. The theme for this year’s completely accessible event, “disability (and) sustainability,” is inspired by Morris and its commitment to environmental stewardship. According to Beberi, the topics are an ideal pairing, since “people with disabilities figure very prominently in discussions of systemic change.” The conference will take place June 11–14, 2014, in Minneapolis. Additional information is available online at