2017: Disability

What is a disability, anyway?

In an era of ever-growing pharmaceutical enhancement, what counts as intellectually disabled, and why would that matter? How does the way we define disability (and normalcy) impact the just distribution of resources in society — and the way society treats those who happen to fall outside the norm? How are foundational concepts in ethics like dignity or autonomy complicated by reflection on the many ways we are dependent on others in the course of any “normal” human lifespan?

On February 2, 2017, we convened a campus-wide conversation on disability.

A full gallery of student work drawn from multiple Georgetown classes preceded a panel discussion in historic Gaston Hall at which no fewer than six expert panelists reflected on their personal, professional, and theoretical intersections with the topic of disability.

Conversations in Bioethics 2017 Panelists

Did you know? This year’s topic celebrates one of the issues at the heart of the KIE story: disability.

The Institute was founded in 1971 with support from the Rose and Joseph Kennedy Foundation, inspired in large part by the Foundation’s ongoing commitment to advancing the rights of the disabled. This year’s topic celebrates that founding vision of a world where the voices of the powerless are made powerful through thoughtful reflection and theory-driven advocacy, and it dives deep into some of the most complicated and interesting questions in disability ethics today.


Panel Discussion

Watch the Panel

The Kennedy Institute of Ethics extends its thanks to Kartemquin Films and to Joanna Rudnick for permission to use video clips from the documentary On Beauty about the work of Rick Guidotti. On Beauty was directed and produced by Joanna Rudnick.

Listen to the Panel

Audio will be posted soon.


Meet the Panelists

Julia Watts Belser, Ph.D., M.A., M.Div.

Julia Watts Belser is an Associate Professor in Department of Theology at Georgetown University. Dr. Belser’s research interests center on Jewish Studies, with a focus in Talmud, rabbinic literature, and Jewish ethics. Her research brings ancient texts into conversation with disability studies, queer theory, feminist thought, and environmental ethics. Her work focuses on classical Jewish responses to drought and disaster, portrayals of sexual violence in rabbinic responses to enslavement and empire, as well as gender, disability, and the dissident body in late antiquity. An ordained rabbi, Professor Belser also writes queer feminist Jewish theology and brings disability culture into conversation with Jewish tradition. She is exceptionally active in both the GU Disability Cluster and the American Academy of Religion: she co-chairs the program unit on Religion and Disability Studies, serves on the steering committee of Religion and Ecology, and chairs the Committee on the Status of People with Disabilities. In 2015, she gave the inaugural Eiesland Endowment Lecture at the Chandler School of Theology, titled “Violence, Disability, and the Politics of Healing.”

Lydia X. Z. Brown

Lydia Brown is a Georgetown alum and current law student at Northeastern University School of Law. They also work as adjunct faculty, teaching a disability course through Tufts University’s Experimental College. Lydia is a gender/queer and transracially/transnationally adopted east asian autistic activist, writer, and speaker who has performed varied work in grassroots organizing, public policy advocacy, and writing largely focused on violence against multiply-marginalized disabled people, especially institutionalization, incarceration, and policing. While an undergraduate student at Georgetown University, Lydia started the blog “Autistic Hoya,” widely read due to its upfront thoughts on disability justice, neurodiversity, intersectional activism. They also co-founded the Washington Metro Disabled Students Collective for intersectional disability justice organizing, led multiple campaigns to reform university policies on disability access, coordinated a lecture and performance series on disability justice, served two terms as Undersecretary for Disability Affairs with the Georgetown University Students Association, and served on the University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities’ consumer advisory council. At present, Lydia is co-president of TASH New England, chairperson of the Massachusetts Developmental Disabilities Council, and a board member of the Autism Women’s Network. In collaboration with E. Ashkenazy and Morénike Giwa Onaiwu, Lydia is the lead editor and visionary behind All the Weight of Our Dreams, a forthcoming anthology of writings and artwork by autistic people of color.

Teresa Blankmeyer Burke, Ph.D., M.A.

Teresa Blankmeyer Burke is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Gallaudet University. She is the first signing Deaf woman in the world to receive a doctorate in philosophy, having attained her graduate education through American Sign Language (ASL). Burke’s research for the most part resides in deaf philosophy, the space where philosophy intersects with Deaf studies. (The use of uppercase Deaf designates the cultural community of signed language users; lowercase deaf designates audiological status). Topics she has published on include moral justification regarding the use of genetic technology to bear deaf children (specifically, the question of signing Deaf potential parents considering this option) and signed language interpreting ethics. Burke has interests in virtue ethics, and is using the professional virtues of signed language interpreters, such as (glossed in ASL) DEAF-HEART and ATTITUDE, as a testbed for philosophical accounts of the virtues. Another project uses the notion of deaf gain (contra hearing loss) to work through conceptions of intrinsic and instrumental value. Her newest endeavor explores questions related to deaf well-being; works in progress include papers on deaf liberty and full access to language as a good. She is the content expert for the ASL Philosophy Resource Project, an online resource of philosophical vocabulary and concepts developed in ASL by an all Deaf team, and has served as bioethics expert advisor to the World Federation of the Deaf and the National Association of the Deaf (U.S.A.) Her recent sabbatical included stints as a visiting scholar at the University of Colorado, the University of New Mexico, and the Hastings Center, and was devoted to her monograph in progress, Bioethics and the Deaf Community.

Rick Guidotti

Rick Guidotti is an award-winning photographer who has spent the past eighteen years collaborating internationally with advocacy organizations/NGOs, medical schools, universities and other educational institutions to effect a sea-change in societal attitudes towards individuals living with genetic, physical, behavioral or intellectual difference. His work has been published in newspapers, magazines and journals as diverse as Elle, GQ, People, the American Journal of Medical Genetics, The Lancet, Spirituality and Health, the Washington Post, Atlantic Monthly and LIFE Magazine. He is also the founder and director of Positive Exposure, a 501.c.3 organization that works with individuals living with a genetic difference using arts, education, and advocacy. Positive Exposure also has two related projects PEARLS – that works in the K-12 setting – and FRAME (Faces Redefining the Art of Medical Education) using film and images to help healthcare professionals better understand the real people affected by genetic conditions and diseases. He and his work were profiled in a documentary film called On Beauty.

John Hockenberry

John Hockenberry is a four-time Emmy Award winner and three-time Peabody Award winner, recognized worldwide for his career as a journalist and author. A prominent figure in the disability rights movement, Hockenberry sustained a spinal cord injury at the age of 19, which left him with paraplegia from the chest down. Since 2008, Hockenberry has been host of The Takeaway, a live national news program on public radio. He has traveled the globe reporting on a wide variety of stories in virtually every medium for more than three decades. Hockenberry has written dozens of magazine and newspaper articles, a play, and two books, including the bestselling memoir “Moving Violations: War Zones, Wheelchairs, and Declarations of Independence.” He has appeared at numerous idea conferences including TED, the World Science Festival, the Mayo Transform Symposium and the Aspen Comedy Festival. Hockenberry has served as a Distinguished Fellow at MIT’s Media Lab and on the President’s Commission of White House Fellowships. Hockenberry and his wife Alison have five children and live in Brooklyn, NY.

Donna R. Walton, Ed.D., CCBT

Donna Walton is the former Disability Program Manager (DPM) for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Prior to her tenure at the EEOC as Disability Program Manager, Walton served as the Senior EEO Advisor at the United States Department of Labor Office of Assistant Secretary for Administration Management, and as Disability Program Manager for The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Prevention Office of Diversity Management and Equal Employment Opportunity, positions in which she worked to assure that people with disabilities are and continue to be an integral part of the workforce. In 2000, while Director of Employment Services at the Whitman-Walker Clinic in Washington, D.C., Walton started a program called “GO Now,” a vocational rehabilitation program that helped persons disabled by HIV/AIDS acquire pre-employment skills and the confidence to seek and gain equal employment opportunities. In 2012 she launched The Divas With Disabilities Project to focus on the image portrayal of women of color who have physical physical disabilities. Dr. Walton is CEO of LEGGTALK, a for profit, empowerment service established to fill a void in the rehabilitation community that seeks to serve underemployed women and teens with disabilities in the District of Columbia. In 2014, Dr. Walton was officially tagged as an inaugural member of the White House Disability Liaison’s Disability-African American Kitchen Cabinet. In 2016, Dr. Walton was appointed to the National Disability Institute (NDI) Board of Directors, enabling her to help ensure better a economic future for people with disabilities and their families. A dynamic, award-winning speaker, Walton has authored or been the subject of articles in HealthQuest, inMotion, Amplitude, and Disability Quarterly. Shattered Dreams, Broken Pieces is her first book.


Student Gallery

View an abridged digital version of the full student gallery below.