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Tuesday, June 18, 2024
The Observer

Diversifying diversity

As I got ready to leave for my first football game as a student at Notre Dame, I went through my checklist of gameday essentials. I had the normal array of items that any undergraduate would have: a student ID, baseball hat and phone; in addition to these typical items, I also had atypical items, such as my compression tights, prednisone, and student disability tickets in hand. Although as a freshman I looked like an able-bodied individual, only four months prior I had been confined to a bed with extreme abdominal pain, rheumatoid arthritis, border-line kidney failure and swollen ligaments. It had only been two months since I had been finally diagnosed with IgA Vasculitis, a rare autoimmune disease that does not present any visible symptoms to others. As I entered college that year, I was nervous about my classes, friends and roommates, but above all, I was nervous about my health and its impact on my college experience. I did not want my health to hold me back from events such as football games, the annual snowball fight or my dorm’s SYR. Thankfully, the Disabilities Center on campus helped to calm these nerves by providing any necessary accommodation, which for this weekend included football tickets for the disabilities section in the stadium. As I walked into the stadium that day, I felt elated knowing that I could still experience a Notre Dame tradition, while still caring for my health.

That elation soon faded as I walked into my section and presented my tickets to an usher. The usher looked me up and down and asked, “What’s wrong with you? I don’t see a need for you to be in this section.” I replied, “I have an autoimmune disease and I need to be able to sit and support my legs throughout the game.” He retorted, “Still, I don’t see any need for you to be here. You don’t look disabled.” I was crushed. Up to that point, everyone who I interacted with was incredibly supportive of me. Now, I had to defend my own health, pain and concerns to a man who was unjustly exerting his authority over me. After calmly explaining my health conditions and connections to the Disabilities Center, he finally let me sit down and enjoy my first Notre Dame football game.

Although I did not experience any more complications with this usher throughout the season, his behavior points towards a wider problem in our culture today. There is an inherent lack of understanding and empathy for people with disabilities. In this incident, because my illness has no visual cues for this usher to look at and recognize, I was not considered disabled. Why do visual cues have to dictate our compassion, inclusion and understanding? In order to address these concerns, I believe that our culture should include disability in the term “diversity” more. I have found that when people think of the term diversity, they think about race, gender or sexual orientation — and understandably so. I am merely encouraging others to expand the typical notion of diversity. I believe that if we make this shift, we can begin to have productive conversations that can help change this campus to be more inclusive to all students. Hopefully then, other students will not have their first football ruined by an usher who refuses to believe a student at her word.

Rose Ashley is a senior, American Studies major from South Bend, Indiana who has an unhealthy obsession with her family’s dogs and the West Wing. To contact, email

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.