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History of Disability Identity, Culture and Community

A free virtual event with Fred Pelka and Lisette Torres-Gerald presented by the Disability Culture and Community Speaker Series

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The University of Massachusetts Amherst Alliance Against Ableism in coordination with the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion invite you to the 2021-2022 Disability Culture and Community Speaker series. 

This graduate student-organized series launches Wednesday, September 22 at 6:30 p.m. with "The History of Disability Identity, Culture and Community." This virtual event features short talks by Western Massachusetts-based oral historian, writer and disability justice activist Fred Pelka and scientist and scientist and disabled scholar-activist Dr. Lisette-Torres Gerald. Remarks by Dr. Ezekiel Kimball, UMass Amherst, and a public Q&A will follow.

Free, online and open to all.


Fred Pelka is a native of Western Massachusetts. Pelka began his work in the disability community in 1983 as a volunteer at the Boston Center for Independent Living. He is the author of The ABC-CLIO Companion to The Disability Rights Movement (1997), The Civil War Letters of Charles F. Johnson, Invalid Corps (University of Massachusetts Press, 2004) and What We Have Done: An Oral History of the Disability Rights Movement (University of Massachusetts Press, 2012). His most recent book, A Different Blaze (2014) is a collection of his poetry published by Hedgerow Books. Pelka’s articles on disability history and other topics have appeared in the Disability Edge, the Christian Science Monitor, Exceptional Parent Magazine, the Humanist, Mainstream, Mouth magazine, Poets and Writers, and elsewhere. He was a 2004 Guggenheim Fellow and a 2015 recipient of the Mary Lou Mahoney Award from the Disability Policy Consortium for his work chronicling the struggle for disability rights. Last spring Pelka taught a course entitled “Disability Advocacy and its History” at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s University Without Walls. The course will be offered again in the spring 2022.

Dr. Lisette E. Torres-Gerald is a trained scientist and disabled scholar-activist who is a Senior Research Associate and Project Coordinator at TERC, a non-profit composed of teams of math and science education and research experts. She has a doctorate in education with a certificate in social justice from Iowa State University, and a master’s in zoology with a certificate in ecology she earned at Miami University. Her academic research focuses on addressing racialized gender justice and disability in science and higher education. Her dissertation was entitled “Speaking Truth to Power and to the People: Scientist bloggers of color as public intellectuals.” Her work also includes several articles including  “Sobreviviendo sin Sacrificando: An intersectional DisCrit testimonio from a tired mother-scholar of color,” in Race, Ethnicity and Education (2021), and “Straddling death and (re)birth: A disabled Latina’s meditation on collective care and mending in pandemic times,” in Qualitative Inquiry (2020), she was also the co-editor of a special issue on disability justice in higher education in JCSCORE a Journal Committed to Social Change on Race and Ethnicity entitled “Disability Justice, Race and Education,” the first special issue published in July of 2020.


This event was organized by the University of Massachusetts Amherst Alliance Against Ableism in coordination with the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion with support from the Campus Climate Improvement Grant Initiative. It is co-sponsored by the UMass Amherst History Department, the College of Education, UMass Allies for Illness and Disability Access, Disability Services, the Stonewall Center, and UMass Amherst Information Technology.