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UMaine Today Magazine

Student Focus

Julie-Ann Scott
Julie-Ann Scott

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Disability as diversity

Julie-Ann Scott knows about high unemployment among people with physical disabilities. She's familiar with workplace policies and medical terminology focusing on what physically disabled bodies can't do.

Scott would rather focus on what they can do.

As part of her doctoral research in communication at the University of Maine, Scott interviewed 26 professionals with physical disabilities who are not just surviving, but thriving in high-level careers from doctors of philosophy to doctors of medicine. She hopes that the results will help shape educational and workplace policy.

"That means helping people understand disability not as a deficit, but as one more aspect of diversity, about what it means to be human," says Scott, who received an award for the top poster at the Society for Disability Studies annual conference last year. "That's not how we look at race or gender."

In her research, Scott uses performance of identity analysis, which is based on the premise that a story both shapes and is shaped by the teller and the listener.

"Julie-Ann is very interested in the ways in which we tell our stories, the sense in which we talk about experiences," says Kristin Langellier, a UMaine professor of communication who specializes in performance study, and Scott's academic adviser. "Telling that story, we're in a sense also producing the possibilities of who we are. It adds to the work in disability studies because it opens up the possibility that things aren't already determined."

Scott's physical disability, spastic cerebral palsy, gave her an unanticipated advantage. Before meeting with her, many of those she interviewed asked if she was disabled. That common ground allowed her to do her research more effectively.

"When I write my dissertation, my conclusion will be taken out of the theoretical and translated into (language that educators and human resources managers can incorporate into academic and corporate disability guidelines)," Scott says.

Most of the people she interviewed explained how they navigate a world that is not designed for people who move like they do. As a result, they developed valuable professional skills, such as the ability to relate to people, communicate effectively and problem-solve. They were able to do this, in part, because of the support networks they established and the adaptive technologies they incorporated into their lives.

Those with progressive conditions were constantly thinking ahead, planning for a time when they may not be able to walk or get to work on their own.
Scott says everyone should plan for physical limitations even those who don't have a disability or progressive disease.

"Disability really does apply to everyone," she says. "Your body is always changing, and disability is part of those changes."


Meghan McPhee
Meghan McPhee

Down the garden path

Meghan McPhee of Boothbay, Maine, graduated from high school in 2000 with a plan to study theater in college as preparation for an acting career. But when she moved to Kentucky for a short time and grew rosebushes as a hobby, fond childhood memories of time spent outside with her grandmother came rushing back.

"(Changing majors) was actually probably one of the best moves I've ever made in my life," says McPhee, who will graduate in May with a degree in landscape horticulture from the University of Maine. "UMaine has definitely given me a lot of opportunities and a lot of exposure that I never would have had. (The department) has allowed me to move forward with a dream."

The 27-year-old, who is president of the UMaine Horticulture Club and the campus chapter of PLANET (the Professional Landcare Network), recently was one of eight student ambassadors from across the country selected to attend this year's Green Industry Conference in Louisville, Ky.

The three-day conference was hosted by PLANET, an international association of lawn care professionals, landscape management contractors, designers and builders, and interior plantscapers. The organization has about 4,000 member firms.

At the conference, McPhee and the other student ambassadors helped with event logistics and participated in a networking session with industry leaders.

"It was like speed dating, but for jobs," she says. "I met some great companies for some possible jobs down the road."

After graduation, McPhee hopes to find a job with a landscape design company on the East Coast where she can focus on residential design, which she describes as interior design for the outside.

"You're extending the inside living space outside," McPhee says. "You're not as restricted. It's more creative and your clients are willing to listen and are usually very flexible."

While interning last summer with Leahy Landscaping on the north shore of Massachusetts, McPhee had a chance to work on her favorite type of design project a Cape Cod with a relatively free- flowing landscape design that reminded her of home. The style typically incorporates a lot of tall grasses that move and swish like waves. Plant material features shades of pink, purple and blue.

"The color palette is kind of that muted Impressionist Monet," McPhee says. "It gives you that hazy, Sunday-morning-coast-in- Maine feeling."

UMaine Today Magazine
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