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The future of disability rights—and what society, as a whole, has to gain

The New Story Is with Dave Ursillo

May 23 2023 • 51 mins

A car accident at age 11 left Brooke Ellison paralyzed from the neck down and ventilator-dependent. When, at 21, she graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University with a degree in cognitive neuroscience—the first student with quadriplegia to do so—she received international praise and attention. Her first book, Miracles Happen (2002), was adapted into The Brooke Ellison Story, a movie directed by the late actor, director, and activist, Christopher Reeve.

Today, Brooke's latest memoir, Look Both Ways, returns to the story of her life through the lens of personal struggle, public policy, sociology, the future of disability rights, and what it means to be human.

She shares what it has meant to be a person living with a disability for the last 31 years, and affirms that our society, as a whole, has so much to gain from a world in which those with disabilities are integrated into decision-making processes, public policy, and how physical spaces are designed.

In our conversation, Brooke and Dave discuss:

  • The feeling of "feigned praise and condescension" when called "an inspiration," despite well-meaning intentions
  • How perceiving inabilities of disabled persons result from "social construction," not reality
  • What is the real, hard work of supporting those with disabilities—in a society built against them?

Brooke Ellison, Ph.D. is an associate professor of health policy and medical ethics at Stony Brook University. She is a policy and ethics expert in stem cell research and has served on the Empire State Stem Cell Board, which designed New York’s stem cell policy. She is on the Board of Directors of the NY Civil Liberties Union and the Suffolk County Human Rights Commission.

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