On Campus

SU community members hold vigil on international Disability Day of Mourning

Jacob Greenfeld | Asst. Photo Editor

Priya Penner and Elly Wong led the reading of the names at the Disability Day of Mourning vigil at SU on Wednesday.

Syracuse University community members on Wednesday afternoon honored the deaths of people with disabilities who were murdered by their families and caregivers.

The vigil was part of the international Disability Day of Mourning, which is recognized by the Autistic Self Advocacy Network on March 1 every year. Priya Penner, a freshman political science and citizenship and civic engagement double major, organized the event at SU with the support of multiple campus organizations, including the Disability Cultural Center.

“Every year, this is the gathering I least look forward to have happen because of its horror. And yet I think it’s an opportunity … for us to experience insistence in our celebration of our right to live well and deeply and meaningfully in the world,” said Diane Wiener, the director of the Disability Cultural Center.

After a moment of silence, Penner and Elly Wong, a sophomore policy studies and citizenship and civic engagement dual major, read off the names of approximately 900 people who have vied. Penner’s voice grew thicker after a few minutes, and Wiener had to ask if she was able to go on.

Prior to the reading, speakers at the event said they were angry they had to make the point that the deceased were murdered. Penner said the media often discusses the tragedies with sympathy for the parents and caregivers as if they were “mercy killing,” thus twice victimizing the deceased.

“These parents killed their own children, as if it’s a terrible burden on the parents, and the only action, reasonable action, is to therefore kill their child,” Penner said. “This is wrong. I mean, I don’t think I need to specifically state that.”

Accessibility was also an issue stressed at the vigil. An American Sign Language interpreter was present throughout the event, and Wiener told the audience that anyone uncomfortable with being recorded or photographed by the media present could stand with her.

“We ought to be countering any violence against us by speaking truth to power, whether that’s spoken with our vocal cords, or with sign language, or with the use of typing communication devices or communication boards or in any other way people communicate with each other including in silence,” Wiener said.

There was also a virtual vigil run by the Autistic Self Advocacy Network on Google Hangouts that ran throughout the day for people who were unable to or uncomfortable with attending a vigil in person.

Students at the event said they were happy to see people attend the vigil and hoped events like this might bring changes for people who have disabilities.

Wendy Leuenberger, a graduate student studying wildlife at State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, said she came to the vigil because she wanted to get to know more people in the community.

Many at the event displayed both anger and pain, but also love.

“We are good. Every disabled person is good, no matter what we do, no matter what we achieve or failed to achieve,” said Wong, one of the students who spoke. “And if you’ve been treated this way, I’m sorry. You deserve all of the love in the world.”

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