In honor of the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, today’s post spotlights the story of current Fulbright Foreign Student from New Zealand, Ailsa Lipscombe, who shares how she has come to re-define her disability and pursue a Fulbright grant in the United States.
Changing attitudes towards disability both here in New Zealand and abroad have been invaluable in me gaining the confidence to continue my studies overseas as a young adult living with chronic pain and vision loss. After falling over at high school and developing a rare nerve disorder – Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) – that, among other things, causes constant pain throughout the body, I never dreamed that ten years later I would be preparing to move to the United States of America as part of the Fulbright Foreign Student Program; yet in September, I will move to Chicago where I will be studying towards my Ph.D. in Music at the University of Chicago.
Having completed my Master of Music at the New Zealand School of Music, I am excited to study in a new environment and alongside a new cohort of students, who I know will inspire and challenge me every day. My key research interests are in the way popular music intersects with narrativity and narratology, and in the multiplicity of ways listeners approach, interpret, understand, and share musical experiences. My work here in New Zealand has begun to explore these questions and I am ever grateful to the Fulbright Foreign Student Program for giving me the opportunity to unpack this research in a new academic and cultural context. As a musician and music scholar, I am thrilled to have the chance to study at an institution that values performance and/as research and I can’t wait to immerse myself in Chicago’s dynamic music scene both from inside and outside the classroom.
To get to this point, however, I have had to re-define how I see my disability, learning that disability is something you have, but not who you are. In society, there is a move away from viewing disability as created by the condition towards a belief that these conditions are made disabling by the environment and social climates the person is living in. This attitude shift, along with being placed with my service dog Connie early last year, has played a crucial part in me learning to manage my health and pursue my musical interests with, rather than in spite of, disability. Moving overseas can be a daunting prospect for anyone and when you add disability to the mix, it can sometimes seem impossible. However, with Connie by my side, and with the supportive network of Fulbright alumni that I have had the pleasure to meet so far, as well as the United States’ commitment to equal access for people living with disability as demonstrated by legislation such as the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), I feel ready and confident to start the next phase of my academic, musical, and personal journeys.
I can’t wait to see where my Fulbright award takes me and the people I will get to meet because of it; in the meantime Duke Orsino’s opening words from Twelfth Night are as true as ever – let the music play on!