2015 MacArthur Fellow Alex Truesdell (B.A. ’79, M.Ed. ’98) believes we can fully educate, employ and value all people with disabilities – without vastly complex or expensive solutions.
This may sound overly simplified and idealistic, but she has proven that simple solutions are there for many people with disabilities when we are courageous enough to seek the answers. And perhaps more importantly, it is our obligation to help improve people’s lives.
It’s part of what drew her from Oregon to Cambridge four decades ago to study special education at Lesley, where she was in the company of educators who were ahead of their time, understanding, even back then, that we must think beyond simple physical inclusion of people with disabilities.
Ideally, “children with disabilities are not just there, but fully engaged and expected to be as great a contributor as any other person,” she says. “That climate was already there at Lesley” when she studied here, she notes.
Take a look at the website for her organization, the Adaptive Design Association, and you will marvel at the creative solutions she and her team come up with to build low-cost adaptive equipment, whether it is a set of cardboard stairs to help a child who can’t use her legs to reach the sink, or a tall light to make a young woman’s electric wheelchair more visible so she can safely navigate city crosswalks and pedestrians.
With common and affordable materials, she has helped thousands of people feel a genuine sense of productivity and engagement.
But we have much work to do.
It is discouraging to read UNICEF’s recent report on the state of the world’s disabled children, which reveals that they are still largely uneducated, homebound, potentially abused or neglected, underserved – and undercounted.
People with disabilities are the largest and most diverse minority in our world. Not only that, but it’s a group I, you, or any able-bodied person could easily join at any time due to an accident, disease or degenerative condition.
Alex views true inclusion as the great challenge for our human family, and it’s one that we must answer, in part through work like hers and the work of other Lesley alumni who strive to create full inclusion in classrooms and communities and beyond.
I’m thrilled that the MacArthur Foundation has just recognized Alex’s visionary work, honoring her with one of the most prestigious prizes in our country, the $625,000 MacArthur Fellowship, often referred to as the “Genius Grant.”
My hope is that this fellowship not only aids her efforts but also elevates the profile of her important work, and that it inspires people internationally to create adaptive design centers. As she says, “I think we owe it to everyone to make sure their potential is realized.”
I share her vision, as do many of our 85,000 alumni, who know that through education and creativity, we can and must build a better, more inclusive world.