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Luke Galvani challenges common stereotypes surrounding disability
"People with disabilities CAN be budding intellectuals, exceptional life partners, and provocative change-makers! There’s nothing people with disabilities CAN’T do."
Luke Galvani is a Master’s student at SFU School of Communication. While the life of a graduate student can be stressful on its own, Luke also faces another major challenge - Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, a degenerative neuromusuclar disorder that seriously affects his mobility and activities in everyday and academic life.
Despite all the challenges, Luke does not allow his disability to define his life options. He proactively challenges the perception around people with disabilities by setting a personal example. Luke is a former Canadian national powerchair football athlete. He is also a social justice and disability advocate, whose work at SFU and externally has led to positive changes in public accessibility measures. In 2017, Luke received SFU’s Terry Fox Gold Medal in recognition for his advocacy work and courage in the face of adversity.
We reached out to Luke to learn more about his work as a disability advocate, his research project, and ways in which we can create a more inclusive environment in the university for differently-abled people.
Can you tell us more about how you embarked on the path of disability and social justice advocacy?
Advocacy is ultimately just a big part of living with a disability, I think, but what sparked it all for me was going through a human rights case surrounding discriminatory hiring practices against one of my favorite charities in 2012. I realised that I could use my valuable experience as a disabled person to help others so that they might not have to deal with some of the hardships I’ve had to and I’ve been doing so in a big way ever since.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in your studies, professional work or life? How did you overcome it?
One of the biggest day to day challenges, for me, has been surrounding people’s perceptions of me as a disabled person. Disabled people are routinely under-estimated and seen as burdens on society. I’ve embraced the fact that my successes and achievements have the potential to immensely challenge misconceptions of disability.
In this university context, how can we work together as the community for a more inclusive and considerate environment for differently-abled people?
SFU has made great strides towards improving the accessibility and inclusivity of its built environment in recent years, seen through its opening of gender-neutral washrooms and the establishment of an accessible convocation ceremony, which I helped coordinate. With this being said, I think pursuing higher education has become exceedingly difficult for students considering the affordability crisis and the desire to churn out graduates in ever shrinking timelines. I think university environments in general need to be more socially accepting and accommodating towards the unique needs of students, especially those with disabilities. There’s so much pressure on students to succeed based on idealistic standards that are frankly unattainable to most. I think success should be measured more on individual merit than standardized achievement.
If you could solve one urgent issue related to social justice and disability, what would it be?
A huge issue right now is surrounding disability and representation. We are seeing a surge in the diversity of characters but there are almost no dynamic disabled characters. The disabled characters that do exist tend to be very stereotypical and almost exclusively portrayed by able bodied people. Disabled people need to be given the opportunity to represent ourselves and to tell our own stories.
What informed your decision to start a graduate program in Communication?
I did my B.A. (Honours) here in the School of Communication and an MA seemed like a perfect way to expand on my intersectional disability research and to bolster my portfolio. Communication is both highly interdisciplinary and majorly relevant in empowering social change that has been invaluable to my research.
What is your Master's research about?
I’m currently finishing writing my thesis on the discourse of disabled sexual deviance in film. There’s very limited representation on sex and disability and what is out there portrays disabled sexual expression as being atypical and moreover deviant. I’m trying to explore how film reinforces and challenges this discourse of disabled sexual deviance. While Margarita with a Straw (2014) problematically suggests that disabled people can only fully achieve love by loving themselves, the film does however positively normalize disabled people exploring intimate relationships.
If you were to make three main counter-statements for common stereotypes about “people with disabilities CAN…”, what would they be?
People with disabilities CAN be budding intellectuals, exceptional life partners, and provocative change-makers! There’s nothing people with disabilities CAN’T do.