“Stay in your lane.” This declarative statement can be heard in numerous contexts—emerging from a squabble at the dining room table by a fatigued parent or as an order from a boss at the workplace after a curious employee asks one too many questions. No matter where the phrase originates, it almost exclusively means the same thing. Stay in your lane is a directive to mind your own business. Focus on what’s in front of you. Keep your nose to the ground. Don’t ask questions. Don’t concern yourself with things that are not directly in front of you. Ignore your peripheral vision.
My lane is Disability Studies. I am a PhD student in the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Disability Studies program. I am also trained professionally as a special education teacher and taught for a few years in an urban elementary school. I claim both Disability Studies and special education as my lanes since both fields have been integral to my understanding of disability. These lanes are my passion and my life’s work. These lanes are where I feel most comfortable and knowledgeable. I have learned, however, that I can only do so much when I don’t venture from these lanes. I cannot effectively teach children how to read when they do not have access to adequate medical care to meet their medical needs. I cannot understand the prevalence of students with disabilities entrapped in the juvenile justice system if I do not understand the lived and cultural experience of disability and how those things interplay with our society. An understanding of the other lanes is necessary to gain a broader and fuller understanding of my lane.
One of the things that drew me to the LEND program was the opportunity to explore disability outside of my lane. LEND is interdisciplinary which means that individuals who practice in all different professions—social workers, occupational therapists, psychologist, etc.—participate in this year long leadership program. LEND also includes self-advocates and family members who provide the necessary and invaluable voice of the lived experience of disability. Each of us brings our own expertise, understanding, training and biases. Each of us think about, approach, and conceptualize disability uniquely.
These are the people that sit around the LEND table. Although we differ in many respects, we share a commonality—a desire to better ourselves personally and professionally in order to better the lives of people with disabilities. This year, we all get the opportunity to become better people and professionals within the context of each other. We expose our misunderstandings, our confusions, and our ignorance in open dialogues that explore the complexity of disability in our society. We also share our passions, knowledge, and advocacy with a community of people that desire to learn and grow. These personal dynamics make for conversations and opportunities that are rich, thought-provoking and challenging.
This year, I get to choose the discomfort of unknown territory. I choose to embrace the process of the discussion over the gratification of the solution. I choose to recognize that what I have to learn is far greater than what I will ever know.
I choose to leave my lane.